Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Obama and the Israel-Palestine peace process

Über-Realist Stephen Walt gives Obama credit for elevating an important reality into the discussion about the Israel-Palestine peace process during his Sunday speech to the AIPAC conference this past Sunday (The Choice Foreign Policy 05/23/2011):

... he offered up the usual bromides about shared values and ironclad commitments, and put down various markers about the U.N. vote and Hamas and security that were obviously intended to defuse suspicions. He also used the opportunity to expose how his critics - including Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu-had deliberately mischaracterized what he had said in his speech at the State Department last Thursday, especially his reference to the 1967 borders as a baseline for negotiations.

But the important part of the speech was when he told AIPAC what everyone knows: Israel and its die-hard supporters here in the United States have a choice. Down one road is a viable two-state solution that will guarantee Israel's democratic and Jewish character, satisfy Palestinian national aspirations, remove the stigma of looming apartheid, turn the 2007 Arab Peace Plan into a reality and ensure Israel's acceptance in the region, facilitate efforts to contain Iran, and ultimately preserve the Zionist dream. Down another road lies the folly of a "greater Israel," in which a minority Jewish population tries to permanently subjugate an eventual Arab majority, thereby guaranteeing endless conflict, accelerating the gradual delegitimization of Israel in the eyes of the rest of the world, handing Iran a potent wedge issue, and making the United States look deeply hypocritical whenever it talks about self-determination and human rights. [my emphasis]
See the official text of Obama's at Remarks by the President at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011.

The long passage to which Walt refers, which took up a significant part of Obama's speech:

And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. And that is why on Thursday I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims -- the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians since at least the Clinton administration.

I know that stating these principles -- on the issues of territory and security -- generated some controversy over the past few days. (Laughter.) I wasn't surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. I don't need Rahm [Emmanuel] to tell me that. Don't need Axelrod to tell me that. But I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. (Applause.) So I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.

Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. This will make it harder and harder -- without a peace deal -- to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.

Third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.

And just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There's a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World -- in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.
In reality, the chance for a two-state solution is probably past. Akiva Eldar, evaluating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint session of Congress on Monday, writes in Netanyahu has declared himself ready to challenge Obama Haaretz 05/25/2011:

Netanyahu's peace plan, if that is the right phrase for the collection of unrealistic terms he presented to Congress yesterday, leads straight to the burial of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, an international crisis and a UN declaration of a Palestinian state. ...

The key has now moved even deeper into U.S. President Barack Obama's pocket. Netanyahu the American hero essentially declared yesterday that he was challenging the American president. Obama will have to decide, and soon, whether he will pick up the gauntlet and send Netanyahu a bill for his refusal to accept the principle without which no speech on Israeli-Palestinian peace has any value: the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, with exchanges of territory that are mutually agreed upon, fair and realistic.
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