Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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President Obama’s Middle East Speech

by Elliott Abrams
May 20, 2011

I was unfavorably impressed by President Obama’s speech yesterday, and explained why both at the CFR web site and at greater length in National Review.

The President’s remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were off the mark.   As I noted in National Review:

“President Obama also said the “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” It is worth comparing how President Bush described the agreed, negotiated borders he sought for the Israelis and Palestinians in that 2004 letter: “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” The Obama language is a shift away from Israel and toward the Palestinians.”

My friend Rob Satloff, who leads the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, made a powerful comment on the speech:

“Perhaps more than anything else, the most surprising aspect of the president’s peace process statement was that it moved substantially toward the Palestinian position just days after the Palestinian Authority decided to seek unity and reconciliation with Hamas. Indeed, the president seemed nonplussed that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has opted for unity with Hamas, a group the United States views as a terrorist organization. This reconciliation with Hamas “raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel,” the president noted — but evidently not questions so profound and troubling to the United States that they would impede a shift in U.S. policy that advantages the Palestinians.”

In this context, the President’s speech to AIPAC on Sunday becomes even more interesting.  Will the President now add elements that were missing yesterday–such as a statement that the Palestinian refugee issue must be resolved in Palestine and not in Israel?  Will he correct his remarks on the “1967 lines?”  It is impossible to say, in part due to the mysterious process by which these Obama speeches are written.  Apparently this speech was being revised literally until the last moment, due to debates in the White House and changes in the President’s decisions about the speech.  Did they know what they were saying, and how far they were tipping toward the Palestinian view?  Did they mean to undermine the Israeli negotiating position?  Those questions will be easier to answer after Sunday.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Bob Miller

    I’m OK with the December 1967 borders.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    I think Prime Minister Netanyahu has to be shaking his head and wondering why he is even in Washington . This administration’s Middle East Policy , if it can even be called a “policy” , is a complete shambles .
    I have no doubt , though , that Mr. Netanyahu wil make the situation perfectly clear to Congress even if the President still doesn’t “get it” !

  • Posted by Fuse

    You are “unfavorably impressed”… Why am I not surprised?!?
    You see, you are part of the problem and you may be struggling to come to terms with the recent changes…
    But continue the spin, as long as it pays the bills, right?…

  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    If it wasn’t the insistence of diplomats that there actually is a “peace process,” this illusion would go up in smoke. As it is, the act is getting tiresome, especially to the Israelis. Give the powerful Jewish state a few more years to consolidate their internal strength and they’ll be telling the Arabs, the CFR and the State Dept. just where they can go.

  • Posted by Calvin Dsouza

    It generally fell flat, the comments about 1967 he made were an attempt to stir things a bit. but it seemed to fall flat to so many years


  • Posted by Ross

    Obama said: “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”
    Did he perhaps mean: At a time when the US is supporting Arab peoples rebelling against unelected political forces, Israel cannot, in light of this, be deemed truly democratic as long as it continues to forcibly occupy Palestinian territory against the wishes of Palestinian?

  • Posted by Beats By Dre For Sale

    I have to verify with you here, which isn’t one thing I usually do! I take pleasure in studying a post that will make folks think. Also, thanks for permitting me to comment!

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