Yesterday, in a speech billed by the White House as a "major" foreign policy address on the Middle East and North Africa, he addressed the "Arab Spring" uprisings, as they have come to be known, and the Israel-Palestine "elephant in the room" by doing two things:
- He placed the United States squarely on the side of the "people" rising up against their despised dictators, and in the case of Syria, told President Assad he had two choices, either lead the transition, "or get out of the way".
- He unequivocally supported a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israel tumor, based on the 1967 boundaries "with some mutual land swaps" and placed the U.S. unequivocally in support of Israel's right to exist, including the responsibility to "tell the truth" because of our friendship with Israel.
boundaries are completely unacceptable to Israel.
Janice Stein, of the Monk School of International Relations, at the University of Toronto, was quite positive in her review of the speech, because as she sees it, Obama set parameters for negotiations to re-commence, without attempting to resolve the crisis "in the public arena"...and also, because Obama also made significant proposals in the face of the uprisings, including the relief of $1billion in Egyptian debt, and the provision of entrepreneurial assistance to the countries in transition, so that the people can find work, innovation and thereby incomes for both country and family so desperately needed. His model for this last proposal was the European effort by the U.S. following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Finding a space between two opposing views and combatants is not always the kind of position that generates the most optimum headlines for a politician in today's media mele. The people who serve as scribes and pundits and talking heads want more extreme "either-or" positions from leaders, in order to prove their "political spine" or their mettle, and seeking middle ground is often considered a sign of timidity, weakness and even indecision.
However, the stakes are extremely high, both in the Arab Spring uprisings and in the Palestinian quest for a permanent homeland for their people and the U.S. and its president and State Department are essential to any long-term solutions on both fronts.
Let's watch today's reports of the conversations between the Israeli leader and the U.S. President, for signs of movement in the Israeli position, that might signal a return to the negotiating table. Hamas, not a partner in any Palestinian government has signalled they rejection of Israel's right to exist; Iran, too, has signalled their intent to "wipe Israel off the map" so the question of existential threats is not only real, but imminent.
It is this position of "denying Israel's right to exist that the world must openly and unquivocally oppose; no country, and no terrorist group, can have the right to eliminate another country, group, race or even religion.
And when Obama signalled his support for a homeland for the "Jewish people" he was casting his vote in support of the Jewish religion and its people, as he has consistently done for the right of the Islamic peoples to practice their religion without fear or threat.
This was another delicate and sophisticated speech, amid a swirling set of dynamics by a highly intelligent and measured U.S. President, for which everyone in the world can be thankful! Once again, he serves more as stateman than as an irritant in the boiling cauldron of Middle East geopolitics.