When I started listening to President Barack Obama’s speech on Middle East in my car, I had a lot of images coming to my mind, particularly when he was describing how the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. I imagined Abraham Lincoln making his stamp on history.
Overall, the speech touched on all issues facing the Arab Spring in the Middle East. He mentioned Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. He announced an economic programme for the new countries facing this transitional period to democracy. He was tough on Syria, without ‘divorcing’ President Bashar Al-Assad regime – yet. He criticised Bahrain’s regime for their criminal actions in suppressing the protests there, but he called both sides to compromise and negotiate a solution that will please all parties. Obviously, there was no mention to the current Saudi troops in Bahrain.
I understand why Saudi Arabia was not mentioned in the speech too. This is something the Saudi people has to start, and the US and international community can follow. Although mentioning ‘driving’ could have been a nice shot, when he was talking about women rights!
All the above was more or less expected, and suit the American agenda of democracy and freedom. But where I think the speech has indeed failed was in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The speech started with the ‘nice’ things, and left the hard one till the end, Palestine. I don’t think anybody in the world disagrees that the Arab Spring is a freedom seeking movement (apart from Hugo Chavez, and some politicians in Beirut and Tehran)
The region will not prosper until the Israeli-Palestinian issue is solved. Although I had low expectations on it, similar to the ‘Arab masses’, but I still kept ‘some’ hopes after witnessing the Nakba Day protests last weekend.
It’s known that the US is strongly committed to the security of Israel, and I am not expecting that to change soon. But I believe the Arab people had grievances against the US foreign policy, and the US is not working on dealing them. This has historically fueled extremism.
I will list the points related to the Palestinian issue. which I think made the speech fail, or less ‘successful’:
1. Borders based on the 1967 lines: with mutually agreed swaps. Although mentioning ’1967 borders is a step forward, but what’s ‘mutually agreed’? if it’s mutually agreed, then it’s not the 1967 borders anymore. What about the UN resolutions in this matter, that’s if we want justice and international law? Obviously, Israel doesn’t want to comply with the relevant international resolutions; We are simply telling them you can occupy land, and then you can ‘mutually agree’ on swapping them. It’s like becoming a shareholder in a company without investing a penny, this the theory. But in practise, it could be a starting point, if the Palestinians accept it and compromise on their rights.
2. Non military Palestinian state: and will work on preventing a resurgence of terrorism, and then, if they were successful, negotiations can move to the core issues: Jerusalem and refugees. Oops, is that the Israeli logic again, seeing the solution as a ‘security’ solution? This proposal is barely a small carrot to Palestinians, and non-peeled too!
3. Israel is the Jewish State: and the homeland for the Jewish people. Israel being the homeland of the Jewish is almost an accepted given, but I am not sure about the ‘Jewish State’. What do you do with the non-Jewish within Israel? will they have to leave or be second class citizens? Again, adopting the Israeli logic
4. Hamas not acceptable: The speech was very undemocratic when it criticised the Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. This should be an internal Palestinian issue, if we respect the ‘choice of people in choosing their leaders’ as Obama said. The Palestinians should be judged on their government actions, irrespective who is forming it. Again, on this one, Israel’s logic was prevailing.
There was joke circulating on twitter that President Obama was late to start his speech, because he was getting it signed off by AIPAC. This seemed to be real after hearing the speech.
The US didn’t do anything, and doesn’t seem want to do anything to remove the grievances of the Arab people. This is giving the excuse to people like Hamas to keep fighting. I quote this from the speech which really justifies the above:
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.
Do we understand what the problem is now? I understood the security bit – with reservation though, but why you don’t allow Israel to even be criticised? So justice doesn’t apply to Israel?
That’s instead of saying, if Israel does wrong, we will criticize them – if not trial them, when they commit crimes, like we do in other places.