Friday, May 20, 2011

Obama's big Middle East speech


My reaction: meh. Parole parole. Lots of rhetoric, precious little substance. Good political theater, with the Israelis pretending to be righteously indignant even though the speech didn't actually change anything with regards to them.

The 1967 borders have been official American policy since 1967. Sometimes the Prez brings them up, sometimes not, depending on which way the wind blows. It was news back when George W. Bush appeared to backtrack from them in a letter to Ariel Sharon, but even that didn't become the official American line; Obama's speech is only significant to the extent that it goes back to the rhetoric before that bit of correspondence.

Both Obama and especially Netanyahu are way behind the curve. The initiative is now with the Arabs.

The Fatah-Hamas accord is big news. It should be welcomed by anyone who cares about peace in the Middle East -- it puts a pretty significant price tag on any stupid shit Hamas might want to pull, which can only be good. Hamas isn't going to disappear, which means that the best possible outcome is that it drops violent resistance. It has now done so, however provisionally and tactically.

Similarly, the Palestinian initiative to go for recognition of independence in the UN is big news. It would change the discourse in the region. I doubt Netanyahu is ready to take the kind of steps needed to put that on hold. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. If the result is an independent Palestine with the 1967 armistice lines as its official borders, things will be rather different. Shit will get real, in one way. It might even make the two-state solution workable again. Might. I still think there are too many "facts on the ground" for that to work, which means that a binational state is the likeliest outcome, however long it'll take to get there.

A few different takes on the speech from some people whose opinion I respect.

Errata: fixed Richard Silverstein's first name. Thanks, David.


  1. I heard a commentator who was asked about reaction to the speech in the Middle East say "There is a lot of disappointment with President Obama..." amongst several of the other points you've mentioned.

    All I can say is--welcome to the club.

    While I think Obama has the smarts to do a lot more, to be a force for resolution on a *lot* of fronts I think he has amply demonstrated that when the rubber hits the road, he doesn't have the will to break ground in any way but through eviscerating compromise.

  2. I completely agree with what you're saying. This speech doesn't mean anything. Nothing is really going to change between Israel and the US unless there's a major shift in the way of the political thinking of either country.

    I also think the US knows that Israel is going to make similar deals with either India or China if the US unilaterally decides to abandon them.

    Just like Israel is a strategic thing for the US, the US is a strategic thing for Israel. Israel would go with whoever decides to give them aid... So, basically, nothing is going to happen there.

    The Palestinians getting recognized by the UN would however change many of the things that been in a status-quo for decades now. It would give the Palestinians legitimacy to get their own borders and at the very least open up Gaza with Egypt probably (unless the military still thinks Hamas is going to make trouble for them too). The West Bank's border with Jordan is however still controlled by Israel....

    On the people you read. You have made me read Juan Cole's and Jerry Haber's blogs lately. Over the past few months I've noticed a few things with both of them.
    Haber seems to have gotten more and more to the left and has been accusing Israel of things that even doesn't make sense to most people. While Israel is mistreating the Palestinians, Bahrain and Syria were massacring their own version of Palestinians with impunity at the start of the Arab Spring and Bahrein even got help doing that with Saudi Arabian jets.
    I'm not justifying what Israel is doing, but he's comparing apples with potatoes, not even with oranges o.O

    Juan Cole is a bit like you, very knowledgeable about the Middle East, but he seems very keen on selling his books via his blog and has recently closed his blog to comments for some reason. I don't agree with him about everything he says about Israel, but he seems to be writing from a state of wisdom rather than a state of anger.

    I would read the other two now :)

  3. Also, a correction, I think it's Richard Silverstein, you called him Larry.

    I liked his article.

  4. I agree with all of these guys about 75% of the time.

    Juan Cole is vastly more knowledgeable than I am. He's also, I think, still quite attached to the idea -- at some level -- that the West can 'fix' the Middle East.

    As to Jeremiah Haber, I don't think he's writing from a place of anger. Frustration, certainly. I feel for him. His brand of non-state Zionism is anathema to just about everybody -- the liberal pro-peace Zionists making up most of Israel's and the Jewish diaspora's peace camp, and the anti-Zionists, mostly as a knee-jerk reaction. And, for what it's worth, most of his accusations make a lot of sense to me. The "but the Arabs do it too" excuse never cut much butter with me.