‘Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own’/ UPDATE
A video of President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem is embedded on this page of Tablet.
Inevitably, there were very many comments on this speech (though none so far from Palestinians). This posting carries these ones (the last 4 are updates on Saturday’s posting):
1) Transcript: Obama and Abbas press conference;
2) Amira Hass: Obama is more Jewish than the Jews;
3) AFP: Obama in direct peace appeal to young Israelis;
4) Transcript: Barack Obama’s speech in Jerusalem;
5) Tikkun: Rabbi Michael Lerner on Obama’s speech;
6) Dahlia Scheindlin: Five positive points in Obama’s Jerusalem speech;
7) +972: Five positive points in Obama’s Jerusalem speech;
8 Richard Falk: What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem;
White House transcript
Posted by Washington Wire, Wall Street Journal
March 21, 2013
Before giving a major address in Jerusalem, President Barack Obama traveled to Ramallah, on the West Bank, where he offered remarks and gave a joint press conference with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Here is the White House transcript of the event:
Muqata Presidential Compound
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (As interpreted.) In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Mr. President Barack Obama, I wish to warmly welcome you and your accompanying delegation to Palestine.
Mr. President, during your visit to our country you will meet a people proud of their history, heritage, culture, and symbols — a young, creative and entrepreneurial people who have made the miracle and rose from the calamities of the Nakba, and continue the path of their ancestors, extending since the ancient times over this land — their land. A people who adhere to their rights and are in harmony, and keep abreast with the realities of the age, its language and methods. A people who build institutions of the state of Palestine, giving an exemplary model despite all hardships and hurdles.
The people of Palestine, Mr. President, who receive you today aspire to attain the simplest rights — the right to freedom, independence and peace, and look forward to that day to come in which they exercise normal and natural life over the land of the state of Palestine — the independent state of Palestine — along the borders of the 4th of June, 1967, with Jerusalem, the “Lady of the Cities,” as its capital, alongside the state of Israel.
We, Mr. President, believe that peace is necessary and inevitable, and we also believe that it is possible. We believe that peacemaking, as much as it requires political courage, also requires an expression of good faith, a recognition of people’s rights, respect for the other, and dissemination of a culture of peace and a commitment to international legitimacy and its resolutions. Certainly, peace shall not be made through violence, occupation, walls, settlements, arrests, siege and denial of refugee rights.
We are extremely in pleasure to receive you today in our country. Our people share with American people, and with you personally, the belief in the values and principles of freedom, equality, justice and respect for human rights. And we, together with the peoples of the world, are partners in the pursuit to achieve a just peace that ends occupation and war, and achieves security, stability and prosperity to all the peoples of our region.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, we have conducted a good and useful round of talks with His Excellency President Obama. It was an opportunity to focus, on our side, on the risks and the results that exists that a continuation of settlement activity represent on the two-state solution, and over the need to release prisoners.
I asserted to His Excellency the President that Palestine has taken long and additional steps for the sake of making peace. I hereby assert again that we are ready to implement all our commitments and obligations, and to respect the signed agreements and international legitimacy resolutions in order to provide for the requirements of launching the peace process and achieving the two-state solution — Palestine and Israel.
We are also serious in ending the division and achieve the Palestinian reconciliation, which constitutes an additional source of power for us to continue our march towards making peace, security and stability in the region.
I have renewed confidence that the United States, represented by his excellency President Obama and Mr. John Kerry, shall intensify its efforts to remove the obstacles ahead of the efforts to achieve a just peace, which the peoples of the region have long awaited.
Here I wish to thank the President for his continuous confirmation of the U.S. commitment to provide support to the Palestinian people, and to thank him and his administration for the support that has been provided during the past years — various forms of support — to the Palestinian treasury, to development projects, and to the UNRWA.
Mr. President, once again you are welcome in Palestine. Thank you. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Marhaba.* Thank you, President Abbas, for your generous words and for welcoming me to Ramallah. I was last here five years ago, and it’s a pleasure to be back — to see the progress that’s happened since my last visit, but also to bear witness to the enduring challenges to peace and security that so many Palestinians seek. I’ve returned to the West Bank because the United States is deeply committed to the creation of an independent and sovereign state of Palestine.
The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it. Palestinians deserve to move and travel freely, and to feel secure in their communities. Like people everywhere, Palestinians deserve a future of hope — that their rights will be respected, that tomorrow will be better than today and that they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity. Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own.
I want to commend President Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, for the progress that they’ve made in building the institutions of a Palestinian state. And the United States is a proud partner in these efforts — as the single largest donor of assistance that improves the lives of Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza. As your partner, we salute your achievements and we mourn your losses. We offer condolences, in particular, over the loss of your fellow Palestinians last weekend in the tragic accident in Jordan.
Ramallah is a very different city than the one I visited five years ago. There’s new construction. There’s new businesses, new start-ups, including many high-tech companies, connecting Palestinians to the global economy. The Palestinian Authority is more efficient and more transparent. There are new efforts to combat corruption so entrepreneurs and development can expand. Palestinian security forces are stronger and more professional — serving communities like Bethlehem, where President Abbas and I will visit the Church of the Nativity tomorrow.
Moreover, this progress has been achieved under some extremely challenging circumstances. So I want to pay tribute to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for their courage, for their tenacity, and for their commitment to building the institutions upon which a lasting peace and security will depend.
I would point out that all this stands in stark contrast to the misery and repression that so many Palestinians continue to confront in Gaza — because Hamas refuses to renounce violence; because Hamas cares more about enforcing its own rigid dogmas than allowing Palestinians to live freely; and because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down rather than building Palestine up. We saw the continuing threat from Gaza again overnight, with the rockets that targeted Sderot. We condemn this violation of the important cease-fire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians — a violation that Hamas has a responsibility to prevent.
Here in the West Bank, I realize that this continues to be a difficult time for the Palestinian Authority financially. So I’m pleased that in recent weeks the United States has been able to provide additional assistance to help the Palestinian Authority bolster its finances. Projects through USAID will help strengthen governance, rule of law, economic development, education and health. We consider these to be investments in a future Palestinian state — investments in peace, which is in all of our interests.
And more broadly, in our discussions today I reaffirmed to President Abbas that the United States remains committed to realizing the vision of two states, which is in the interests of the Palestinian people, and also in the national security interest of Israel, the United States, and the world. We seek an independent, a viable and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people, alongside the Jewish State of Israel — two nations enjoying self-determination, security and peace.
As I have said many times, the only way to achieve that goal is through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. There is no shortcut to a sustainable solution.
In our discussion with President Abbas, I heard him speak eloquently about the difficult issues that cannot be ignored — among them, problems caused by continued settlement activities, the plight of Palestinian prisoners, and access to holy sites in Jerusalem. I understand that the status quo isn’t really a status quo, because the situation on the ground continues to evolve in a direction that makes it harder to reach a two-state solution. And I know that the Palestinian people are deeply frustrated.
So one of my main messages today — the same message I’m conveying in Israel — is that we cannot give up. We cannot give up on the search for peace, no matter how hard it is. As I said with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, we will continue to look for steps that both Israelis and Palestinians can take to build the trust and the confidence upon which lasting peace will depend. And I very much appreciate hearing President Abbas’s ideas on what those steps could be.
I want both sides to know that as difficult as the current situation is, my administration is committed to doing our part. And I know that Secretary of State John Kerry intends to spend significant time, effort, and energy in trying to bring about a closing of the gap between the parties. We cannot give up on the search for peace. Too much is at stake.
And if we’re going to succeed, part of what we’re going to have to do is to get out of some of the formulas and habits that have blocked progress for so long. Both sides are going to have to think anew. Those of us in the United States are going to have to think anew. But I’m confident that we can arrive at our destination to advance the vision of two nations, two neighbors at peace — Israel and Palestine.
If given the chance, one thing that I’m very certain of is that the Palestinians have the talent, the drive, and the courage to succeed in their own state. I think of the villages that hold peaceful protests because they understand the moral force of nonviolence. I think of the importance that Palestinian families place on education. I think of the entrepreneurs determined to create something new, like the young Palestinian woman I met at the entrepreneurship summit that I hosted who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. I think of the aspirations that so many young Palestinians have for their future — which is why I’m looking forward to visiting with some of them right after we conclude this press conference.
That’s why we can’t give up, because of young Palestinians and young Israelis who deserve a better future than one that is continually defined by conflict. Whenever I meet these young people, whether they’re Palestinian or Israeli, I’m reminded of my own daughters, and I know what hopes and aspirations I have for them. And those of us in the United States understand that change takes time but it is also possible, because there was a time when my daughters could not expect to have the same opportunities in their own country as somebody else’s daughters.
What’s true in the United States can be true here as well. We can make those changes, but we’re going to have to be determined. We’re going to have to have courage. We’re going to have to be willing to break out of the old habits, the old arguments, to reach for that new place, that new world. And I want all the people here and throughout the region to know that you will have the President of the United States and an administration that is committed to achieving that goal.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q: After you meet leaders from both sides, is there any chance to resume peace talks as soon as possible? And do you think that the two-state solution is still valid in this policy of expanding settlements is continuing going on? And my last question — did you raise the freezing of settlement activity with Prime Minister Netanyahu when you met him? Thanks.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Based on the conversations that I’ve had with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, I do think the possibility continues to exist for a two-state solution. I continue to believe it is our best, and indeed, in some ways, our only chance to achieve the kinds of peaceful resolution of old conflicts, but also the opening up of new opportunities for peoples on both sides to thrive, to succeed, for both Israel and a state of Palestine to be incorporated into the global economy.
One of the striking things, one of the ironies of this conflict is that both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are extremely entrepreneurial. They have a keen business sense. They could be hugely successful in helping to lift up the economy of the region as a whole.
I was with President Peres this morning before I came here, looking at a high-tech exhibit that was taking place in Jerusalem. And there was actually a program that U.S. — a U.S. company, Cisco, had set up, where it was hiring young Arab engineers and Palestinian engineers because they were so well qualified, so talented and there was a great hunger for those kinds of skills. Well, imagine if you have a strong, independent state that’s peaceful — all the talent that currently is being untapped that could be creating jobs and businesses and prosperity throughout this area.
So I absolutely believe that it is still possible. But I think it is very difficult. I think it’s difficult because of all sorts of political constraints on both sides. I think it’s difficult, frankly, because sometimes, even though we know what compromises have to be made in order to achieve peace, it’s hard to admit that those compromises need to be made, because people want to cling on to their old positions and want to have 100 percent of what they want, or 95 percent of what they want, instead of making the necessary compromises.
And as a politician, I can say it’s hard for political leaders to get too far ahead of your constituencies. And that’s true for Prime Minister Netanyahu; I’m sure it’s true for President Abbas as well.
But if we can get direct negotiations started again, I believe that the shape of a potential deal is there. And if both sides can make that leap together, then not only do I believe that the Israeli people and the Palestinian people would ultimately support it in huge numbers, but I also think the world and the region would cheer. There would be some who would be upset because they benefit from the current conflict. They like the status quo, they like the arrangement as it is. But I actually think that there are majorities out there who right now don’t feel helpful but still would strongly support both Palestinian and Israeli leadership that made the necessary effort and compromises for peace.
Now, one of the challenges I know has been continued settlement activity in the West Bank area. And I’ve been clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leadership that it has been the United States’ policy, not just for my administration but for all proceeding administrations, that we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, to be something that can advance the cause of peace. So I don’t think there’s any confusion in terms of what our position is.
I will say, with respect to Israel, that the politics there are complex and I recognize that that’s not an issue that’s going to be solved immediately. It’s not going to be solved overnight.
On the other hand, what I shared with President Abbas and I will share with the Palestinian people is that if the expectation is, is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point for negotiations.
So I think it’s important for us to work through this process, even if there are irritants on both sides. The Israelis have concerns about rockets flying into their cities last night. And it would be easy for them to say, you see, this is why we can’t have peace because we can’t afford to have our kids in beds sleeping and suddenly a rocket comes through the roof. But my argument is even though both sides may have areas of strong disagreement, may be engaging in activities that the other side considers to be a breach of good faith, we have to push through those things to try to get to an agreement — because if we get an agreement then it will be very clear what the nature of that agreement is: There will be a sovereign Palestinian state, a sovereign Jewish State of Israel.
And those two states I think will be able to deal with each other the same way all states do. I mean, the United States and Canada has arguments once in a while, but they’re not the nature of arguments that can’t be solved diplomatically. And I think we can keep pushing through some of these problems and make sure that we don’t use them as an excuse not to do anything.
Q Mr. President, President Abbas, on behalf of all my colleagues, I want to get a little bit more specific on the question of settlements and the overall peace process. Mr. President, when you started your administration, you called for a halt of new settlement activity. That held up for a while, then dissipated. And then late last year when the Israeli government announced very sensitive settlement activity in the E1 zone, your administration put out a statement that many in this region thought was either tepid or completely nonresponsive. What would you say here, in Ramallah, Mr. President, to those entrepreneurial Palestinians you referenced who believe you’ve either been equivocal or nonresponsive to the issue of Israeli settlements?
And do you, President, Abbas, do you believe it is necessary for the peace process to start with a declaration publicly from the Israeli government that it will either slow down or stop entirely new settlement activity?
And broadly, on the peace process itself, Mr. President, you talked about thinking anew. Historically, the theory has been nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. Are you,
Mr. President Obama and President Abbas, [are you] open to a theory that would say if things are agreed to, they shall be implemented, to build confidence on both sides and restart the peace process? Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Major, I think I answered the question previously about settlements. You mentioned E1, in particular. I think that is an example of at least a public statement by the Israeli government that would be very difficult to square with a two-state solution. And I’ve said that to Prime Minister Netanyahu. I don’t think that’s a secret.
With respect to whether there’s a requirement for a freeze or moratorium, I want to repeat what I just said earlier, which is if the only way to even begin the conversations is that we get everything right at the outset, or at least each party is constantly negotiating about what’s required to get into talks in the first place, then we’re never going to get to the broader issue, which is how do you actually structure a state of Palestine that is a sovereign, contiguous, and provide the Palestinian people dignity, and how do you provide Israel confidence about its security — which are the core issues.
The core issue right now is, how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people, and how do we assure security for the Israeli people? And that’s the essence of this negotiation. And that’s not to say settlements are not important. It is to say that if we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved.
So I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. I want to make sure that we are getting to the core issues and the substance, understanding that both sides should be doing what they can to build confidence, to rebuild a sense of trust. And that’s where, hopefully, the U.S. government can be helpful.
On your last point, I think that part of my goal during this trip has been to hear from both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu about what they would need and how they would see a potential path — how it would be structured. And so I think it’s premature for me to give you an answer to the question you just posed. I think it was a good one; I think it was a legitimate one, but I’m still hearing from them. And me, Secretary Kerry, others, we’re going to go back and look at what we’ve heard from both sides and make a determination as to what has the best prospect for success.
I will say this, that I think incremental steps that serve to delay and put off some of the more fundamental issues, rather than incremental steps that help to shape what a final settlement might look like, are probably not going to be the best approach, because it’s not clear that that would, in fact, build trust. If you have a situation where it looks like the incremental steps replace the broader vision, as opposed to incremental steps in pursuit of a broader vision, then I think what you end up getting is four more years, 10 more years, 20 more years of conflict and tension, in which both sides are testing boundaries of those incremental agreements.
Whereas if we can get a broad-based agreement that assures the Palestinians that they have a state, and you have a comprehensive approach that ensures Israel the kind of security that they need, the likelihood of that deal holding and, ultimately, the sense of trust that comes from people-to-people relations, not just governmental relations, I think that’s much more likely to occur.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: Regarding the issue of settlements, it is not only our perception that settlements are illegal, but it is a global perspective. Everybody considers settlements not only a hurdle, but even more than a hurdle, towards the two-state solution.
We mentioned and we remember that the Security Council, during the ’70s and ’80s, had issued more than 13 resolutions not only condemning settlements, but demanding ending them and removing them because they are illegal. We are asking for nothing outside the framework of international legitimacy. Hence, it is the duty of the Israeli government to at least halt the activity so that we can speak of issues. And when we define our borders and their borders together, each side will know its territory in which it can do whatever it pleases.
So the issue of settlement is clear. We never give up our vision, whether now or previously, but we continue to maintain this vision, and we believe the settlements are illegal and that settlement activity is illegal. We hope that the Israeli government understands this. We hope they listen to many opinions inside Israel itself speaking of the illegality of settlements.
We spoke about this with Mr. President and we clarified our point of view on how we can reach a solution. Many Palestinians, when they see settlements everywhere in the West Bank— and I don’t know who gave Israel that right — they do not trust the two-state solution or vision anymore. And this is very dangerous that people and the new generation reaches the conviction that it’s no more possible to believe in the two-state solution.
We continue to believe in the two-state solution on the 1967 borders, and consequently, if peace between us and the Israelis is achieved, the Israelis will know very well that the Arab and Islamic world all together, which means 57 Arab and Muslim states, shall immediately recognize the State of Israel according to the road map and the Arab initiative.
* Arabic, a warm hello.
Palestinian protester holds a placard depicting U.S. President Barack Obama dressed as an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 21, 2013. Photo by Reuters.
In Ramallah, Fatah official says Obama signaled he is more Jewish than the Jews
President’s praise for security services is insulting in light of the economic collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
By Amira Hass, Ha’aretz
March 22, 2013
United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Ramallah on Thursday proved at least one thing: The Palestinian security services have become very professional in recent years. They prepared extensively for the mission, “even without helicopters,” as one security official took pride in saying. They hosted the advance U.S. security team and were praised for their level of preparedness, according to the official.
On the morning of the visit, the Palestinians closed what they call the “security square” in Ramallah and nearby El Bireh to all traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, and placed dozens of police cars at the ends of the blocked streets. There were several rows of police officers standing with arms linked and looking very serious as they faced down protesters demonstrating against Obama’s visit because of his unwavering support for Israel.
Armed security personnel were stationed on the roofs of tall buildings around the Muqata and used their binoculars to examine the handful of demonstrators quibbling over the slogans. Some of the protesters cursed the police standing there silently; some yelled that insulting the police was an ugly thing to do, since they too are brothers; some made demands of Obama; and others said his visit was unnecessary and unwanted.
At his press conference in Ramallah, Obama found the time to praise the professionalism of the Palestinian security forces. “Palestinian security forces are stronger and more professional − serving communities like Bethlehem, where [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and I will visit the Church of the Nativity tomorrow,” Obama said, adding that “this progress has been achieved under some extremely challenging circumstances.”
To the ears of the average Palestinian citizen, this was a backhanded compliment, insulting in that it judges the Palestinian Authority through the paternalistic eyes of the occupier. It was galling to some in part because the main improvement Obama cites relates to the security services and their skills in repressing opposition at home − they do not, after all, prevent the daily incursions of the Israeli military.
The general impression among Palestinians is that the PA is on the verge of economic collapse, collecting more and more taxes while failing to pay salaries regularly, set a minimum wage for private-sector workers or provide proper health and educational services. PA officials in Gaza had a few hundred shekels deducted from their wages last week in a surprising − some say illegal − effort to cover electricity debts, and essential medicines are lacking in the national health system because suppliers have stopped selling to the PA on credit. In such a reality, Obama’s praise did no more than add fuel to the flames of anger.
“His message upon landing at Ben-Gurion Airport was that he’s more Jewish than the Jews,” a senior security official and Fatah leader said in Ramallah’s Al-Manarah Square, adding that he prefers to watch the demonstrators get ready for their rally than be bored waiting for Obama’s helicopter to land.
The security official’s comments reflected the sense of sobriety and lack of expectation with which Obama was received at the Muqata. Still, even veteran Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah officials who watched the televised Obama-Abbas press conference in Ramallah were shocked and angered. They raged at how he named an Israeli boy who lost a leg in a rocket attack but failed, even as a gesture of politeness, to mention any Palestinian children, like those whose father, Arafat Jaradat, died last month while being interrogated by the Shin Bet security service.
The officials were even more enraged by Obama’s failure to stress the gravity of the ongoing building in settlements and his retreat from the unequivocal position against settlements that he laid out at the beginning of his first term.
Asked for his opinion of the press conference, one very senior official muttered − not for attribution, of course − “Shit.”
Abbas has made no secret that his opinion of the settlements hasn’t changed, that they are illegal, even according to international law. Would he be willing to renew negotiations without a settlement freeze, as Obama explicitly demanded?
The general indifference of the Palestinian public might lead one to believe that even if Abbas is forced to backtrack on his position and return to the negotiating table without such a freeze in hand, in return for further American funding, he won’t face insurmountable pressure and protests. All the same, warned one of the demonstrators, the explosion will come, due to the Palestinians’ socioeconomic despair and the absence of any hope for a political resolution to the conflict.
By Stephen Collinson, AFP
March 21, 2013
JERUSALEM — In a powerful direct appeal to Israelis, President Barack Obama insisted that a two-state peace with the Palestinians could still be forged and is their only hope of true security.
In a trademark soaring address Thursday, Obama also built on his vow of an “eternal” defence of the Jewish state in the face of Iran’s nuclear programme, which has been at the centerpiece of his first trip to the country as US president.
Obama sought to convince young Israelis to reshape the internal political dynamics that have seen peace talks frozen for two years.
“Peace is necessary. Indeed it is the only path to true security,” he told an exuberant audience at a Jerusalem conference centre.
“You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream,” Obama said, warning that a two-state solution was the only way to ensure Israel remained a Jewish state amid changing demographics.
Obama urged his young Israeli audience to “look at the world through (Palestinian) eyes.”
During a subsequent state dinner at his Jerusalem residence, President Shimon Peres told his guest that he was “moved by the way in which you spoke to the hearts of the young Israelis.”
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was also pleased with the address, a senior Palestinian official said.
“President Abbas welcomed President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem saying that achieving peace and the option of two states on the 1967 borders are the way to bring security for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples,” peace negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
Earlier, Obama’s edgy news conference with Abbas in Ramallah reflected Palestinian disappointment with his failure to live up to first-term vows to help forge a Palestinian state.
The frosty atmosphere lacked the bonhomie of the bonding session he held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as the two leaders, both starting new terms, sought to prove their prickly relationship was a thing of the past.
In Ramallah, Obama condemned the “continuing threat” of attacks from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after two rockets hit southern Israel, near the town of Sderot.
The Salafist Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis group claimed the attack in a statement that condemned Obama’s visit to the region.
In front of Abbas, Obama said that the two-state solution was still a possibility, despite claims that Israeli settlement building had crushed Palestinian dreams of a contiguous state.
Although he singled out Israeli settlements on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state as a major impediment to reviving peace talks, Obama did not call for a new construction ban.
In private talks with Obama, Abbas said that a freeze was a must, according to his political adviser Nimr Hammad.
“A resumption of negotiations is not possible without an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,” Hammad said.
Israel says it will not come back to talks with pre-conditions.
Obama flew to the Middle East amid tepid expectations, saying he was coming just to assess the prospects for progress.
But the striking ambition of his speech will be sure to raise expectations of a new US intervention to revive the peace process.
Obama made similar calls in Middle East talks in 2009 in a Cairo speech — but failed to live up to the expectations he generated, as the peace moves crashed.
Officials said Obama would send Secretary of State John Kerry back to Israel on Saturday to follow up on his visit with Israeli leaders.
The office of Netanyahu, who heads a new governing coalition, thanked Obama for his “unreserved” support for Israel and agreed on the need for peace with the Palestinians.
But newly appointed cabinet minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the far-right Jewish Home party, was unimpressed.
“Obama’s words certainly came out of a concern for Israel and from true friendship, but we experienced the results of our previous withdrawal this morning in Sderot and in the thousands of victims during past years,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “A Palestinian state is not the right way.”
Obama also issued a fresh call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power as the bloody uprising against his regime, which the UN estimates has so far claimed 70,000 lives, enters its third year.
During his talks with Netanyahu, Obama warned that any use by Assad of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer” that would lead to international action.
And he issued a fresh warning to Iran, stressing that the time for pursuing a diplomatic resolution to its controversial nuclear program was “not unlimited.”
President tells Israelis ’Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land’
Prepared text of Barack Obama’s speech at the Jerusalem Convention Centre, guardian.co.uk
March 21, 2013
Shalom. It is an honor to be here with you in Jerusalem, and I am so grateful for the welcome that I have received from the people of Israel. I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.
Over the last two days, I have reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I have seen Israel’s shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated. But what I’ve looked forward to the most is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people – especially so many young people – about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.
Now I know that in Israel’s vibrant democracy, every word and gesture is carefully scrutinized. But just so you know, any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet.
I also know that I come to Israel on the eve of a sacred holiday – the celebration of Passover. And that is where I would like to begin today. Just a few days from now, Jews here in Israel and around the world will sit with family and friends at the Seder table, and celebrate with songs, wine and symbolic foods. After enjoying Seders with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I’m proud to have brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the center of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.
It is a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation. It is a part of the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it is a story that has inspired communities around the globe, including me and my fellow Americans.
In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement. For generations, this promise helped people weather poverty and persecution, while holding on to the hope that a better day was on the horizon. For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.
Of course, even as we draw strength from the story of God’s will and His gift of freedom expressed on Passover, we know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle, and working – through generation after generation – on behalf of that ideal of freedom. As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed – “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that… we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” So just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on – for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.
For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice, pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.
That is why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own. And over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins.
And so Israel has been a refuge for the diaspora – welcoming Jews from Europe to the former Soviet Union; from Ethiopia to North Africa.
Israel has built a prosperous nation – through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class, and innovators who reached new frontiers – from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space.
Israel has established a thriving democracy – with a spirited civil society, proud political parties, a tireless free press, and a lively public debate – lively may even be an understatement.
And Israel has achieved this even as it has overcome relentless threats to its security – through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and a citizenry that is resilient in the face of terror.
This is the story of Israel. This is the work that has brought the dreams of so many generations to life. And every step of the way, Israel has built unbreakable bonds of friendship with the United States of America.
Those ties began only eleven minutes after Israeli independence, when the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel. As President Truman said in explaining his decision to recognize Israel, “I believe it has a glorious future before it not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization”
Since then, we have built a friendship that advances our shared interests. Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy.
But the source of our friendship extends beyond interests, just as it has transcended political parties and individual leaders. America is a nation of immigrants. We are strengthened by diversity. We are enriched by faith. We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws. We are fueled by entrepreneurship and innovation. And we are defined by a democratic discourse that allows each generation to reimagine and renew our union once more. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different.
Yet I stand here today mindful that for both our nations, these are complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face danger and upheaval in the world. When I look at young people within the United States, I think about the choices that they must make in their lives to define who we will be as a nation in this 21st century, particularly as we emerge from two wars and a painful recession. No matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, and their ambition always gives me hope.
I see the same spirit in the young people here today. And given the ties between our countries, I believe your future is bound to ours. So I’d like to focus on how we can work together to make progress in three areas that will define our times: security, peace, and prosperity.
I will begin with security. I am proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger: more exercises between our militaries, and more exchanges among our political, military and intelligence officials than ever before; the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge. Those are the facts. But to me, this is not simply measured on the balance sheet. I know that here, in Israel, security is something personal. So let me tell you what I think about when I consider these issues.
When I consider Israel’s security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot – children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live. That’s why we’ve invested in the Iron Dome system to save countless lives – because those children deserve to sleep better at night. That’s why we have made it clear, time and again, that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself. And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from; who were robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families. That’s why every country that values justice should call Hizbollah what it truly is – a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities, and supports the massacre of men, women and children in Syria.
The fact that Hizbollah’s ally – the Assad regime – has stockpiles of chemical weapons only heightens the urgency. We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. And I have made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer of these weapons to terrorists. The world is watching, and we will hold you accountable.
America will also insist that the Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. Assad must go so that Syria’s future can begin. Because true stability in Syria depends upon establishing a government that is responsive to its people – one that protects all communities within its borders, while making peace with countries beyond them.
When I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel – it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. It would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism, undermine the non-proliferation regime, spark an arms race in a volatile region, and embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.
That is why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in a dire condition. Its leadership is divided. And its position – in the region, and the world – has only grown weaker.
All of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Moreover, peace is far more preferable to war, and the inevitable costs – and unintended consequences – that would come with it. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That is what America will do – with clear eyes – working with a world that is united, and with the sense of urgency that is required.
But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained. As President, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
For young Israelis, I know that these issues of security are rooted in an experience that is even more fundamental than the pressing threat of the day. You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected your right to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they have never met hate them because of who they are, in a region that is changing underneath your feet.
So that is what I think about when Israel is faced with these challenges – that sense of an Israel that is surrounded by many in this region who reject it, and many in the world who refuse to accept it. That is why the security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important – because it can never be taken for granted. But make no mistake: those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd.
The question, then, is what kind of future Israel will look forward to. And that brings me to the subject of peace.
I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders – Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin –reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets. Across the region, you have extended a hand of friendship, and too often have been confronted with the ugly reality of anti-Semitism. So I believe that the Israeli people do want peace, and you have every right to be skeptical that it can be achieved.
But today, Israel is at a crossroads. It can be tempting to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace – particularly when an Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers, and so many other pressing issues demand your attention. And I know that only Israelis can make the fundamental decisions about your country’s future.
I also know that not everyone in this hall will agree with what I have to say about peace. I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise, and that’s a part of democracy and the discourse between our two countries. But it is important to be open and honest with one another. Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside, and express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do. But I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future, and I ask you to consider three points.
First, peace is necessary. Indeed, it is the only path to true security. You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. Given the frustration in the international community, Israel must reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war – because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.
This truth is more pronounced given the changes sweeping the Arab World. I recognize that with the uncertainty in the region – people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of non-secular parties in politics –it is tempting to turn inward. But this is precisely the time to respond to the wave of revolution with a resolve for peace. As more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace with a handful of autocratic leaders are over. Peace must be made among peoples, not just governments. No one step can change overnight what lies in the hearts and minds of millions. But progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin, while sidelining extremists who thrive on conflict and division.
Second, peace is just. There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, and leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiation. That is why, despite the criticism we’ve received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations.
But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
Only you can determine what kind of democracy you will have. But remember that as you make these decisions, you will define not simply the future of your relationship with the Palestinians – you will define the future of Israel as well. As Ariel Sharon said, “It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.” Or, from a different perspective, think of what David Grossman said shortly after losing his son, as he described the necessity of peace – “a peace of no choice” he said, “must be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice.”
Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few would have imagined a decade ago. So many Palestinians – including young people – have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.
Which leads to my third point: peace is possible. I know it doesn’t seem that way. There will always be a reason to avoid risk, and there’s a cost for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse to not act. And there is something exhausting about endless talks about talks; the daily controversies, and grinding status quo.
Negotiations will be necessary, but there is little secret about where they must lead – two states for two peoples. There will be differences about how to get there, and hard choices along the way. Arab States must adapt to a world that has changed. The days when they could condemn Israel to distract their people from a lack of opportunity are over. Now is the time for the Arab World to take steps toward normalized relations with Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn. I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for talks. But for the moment, put aside the plans and process. I ask you, instead, to think about what can be done to build trust between people.
Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want – they’re not so different from you. The ability to make their own decisions; to get an education and a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married and have a family. The same is true of the young Palestinians that I met in Ramallah this morning, and of young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.
That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections that take place among those who live together in this land, and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.
I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at young people who have not yet learned a reason to mistrust, and those who have learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents because of the simple recognition that we hold more hopes in common than the fear that drives us apart. Your voices must be louder than the extremists who would drown them out. Your hopes must light the way forward. Look to a future in which Jews, Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. Look to the future that you want for your own children – a future in which a Jewish, democratic state is protected and accepted, for this time and for all time.
There will be many voices that say this change is not possible. But remember this: Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but also the courage to see the world as it should be. Ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change. After all, that is a lesson that the world learned from the Jewish people.
That brings me to the final area I will focus on: prosperity, and Israel’s broader role in the world. I know that all the talk about security and peace can seem distant from other concerns that you have in your daily lives. And every day, even amidst the threats you face, Israelis are defining themselves by the opportunities you create.
Through talent and hard work, Israelis have put this small country at the forefront of the global economy. Israelis understand the value of education, and have produced 10 Nobel laureates. Israelis understand the power of invention, and your universities educate engineers and inventors. That spirit has led to economic growth and human progress: solar power and electric cars; bandages and prosthetic limbs that save lives; stem cell research and new drugs that treat disease; cell phones and computer technology that change the way we live. If people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv: home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers. And Israelis are so active on social media that every day seemed to bring a different Facebook campaign about where I should give this speech.
That innovation is just as important to the relationship between the United States and Israel as our security cooperation. Our first free trade agreement in the world was reached with Israel nearly three decades ago, and today the trade between our two countries is at 40 billion dollars each year. More importantly, that partnership is creating new products and medical treatments, and pushing new frontiers of science and exploration.
That is the kind of relationship that Israel should have – and could have – with every country in the world. Already, we see how that innovation could reshape this region. One program here in Jerusalem brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn vital skills in technology and business. An Israeli and Palestinian have started a venture capital fund to finance Palestinian start-ups. Over 100 high-tech companies have found a home on the West Bank, which speaks to the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people.
One of the great ironies of what is happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for – education and entrepreneurship; the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, to connect to the global economy – those things can be found in Israel. This should be a hub for thriving regional trade, and an engine of opportunity. And this is already a center for innovation that helps power the global economy. I believe that all of that potential for prosperity can be enhanced with greater security, and a lasting peace.
Here, in this small strip of land that has been the center of so much tragedy and triumph, Israelis have built something that few could imagine sixty-five years ago. Tomorrow, I will pay tribute to that history – at the grave of Herzl, a man who had the foresight to see that the future of the Jewish people had to be reconnected to their past; at the grave of Rabin, who understood that Israel’s victories in war had to be followed by battles for peace; and at Yad Vashem, where the world is reminded of the cloud of evil that can descend on the Jewish people and all of humanity if we fail to remain ever vigilant.
We bear that history on our shoulders, and we carry it in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim the future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the story of this great nation.
As the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend, I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead. And as a man who has been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience – tikkun olam – I am hopeful that we can draw upon what’s best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. May God bless you, and may God bless Israel and the United States of America. Toda raba.
An editorial preface from Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun:
March 21, 2013
If only Obama could go beyond the brilliant principles he articulated today to Israelis in Jerusalem—to follow through with action based on those principles!!!
Obama had an amazing opportunity to paint a detailed picture of what a peace agreement could look like between Israelis and Palestinians. Very few Palestinians or Israelis have ever heard one of their leaders present such a vision in a way that seemed detailed enough to be plausible.
Instead, President Obama stayed at a very general level—urging people to not fear, reminding them that they are not alone. And those reminders were brilliantly done, and very important. The best was when he asked Israelis to imagine themselves into the consciousness of Palestinians living under occupation—for this alone, Obama deserves our thanks.
But even so, doing what he did can’t break through the consciousness that has been daily shaped by a distorted picture of what is possible, drawn for them by the settlers and right-wing extremists who today run the Israeli government.
This was the moment for the US to say, “here is a plan that can work” and lay it out. I’ve done that in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (North Atlantic Books, 2012), and when I met personally with Obama in 2006 he agreed with much of that plan.
But Israelis and Palestinians have never been told by the US, “here is what you have to give up and here is what you will get,” and then followed through and laid out the plan. Without that, the words eventually and in retrospect will seem as hollow as Obama’s speech about democracy in Egypt which was then followed by Obama not supporting the Egyptian people when they went to the streets to overthrow their dictator Mubarak.
A U.S. backed plan will not only have to include an economically and politically viable Palestinian state on at least 95% of the 22% of pre-48 Palestine that was left to the Palestinian people after that first war—and trade of 4-5% of the land of the West Bank to Israel in exchange for equally valuable land given to the new Palestinian state. It will ALSO have to include Palestinians allowing Jewish settlers to stay on the West Bank and settle wherever they wish, but only as law-abiding citizens of a Palestinian state who have given up their Israeli citizenship and have accepted an Israeli declaration that it will not interfere with the judicial process inside Palestine if the new state prosecutes those who have illegally seized the personal property and land of Palestinians. It will have to include Israelis acknowledging partial (not full) responsibility for Palestinian refugees, and allowing 20,000 per year—each year for the next 30 years—to return to Israel and live in Israeli housing provided to them on the same basis Israel provides housing for new Jewish immigrants (20,000 a year being a number small enough to not threaten a Jewish majority, but large enough to be a strong symbolic statement of caring for Palestinian refugees). The Arab world will have to acknowledge its responsibility for the one million Jews who fled Arab lands in fear of their lives in response to anti-Zionist riots and murders that terrified the Jews who fled—and provide reparations, just as the international community and Israel will have to join in funding reparations for the Palestinian people who lost their homes, and at a level sufficient to make Palestine a thriving economy and not just one dependent on Israeli jobs. And all sides will have to join with generous support from the international community to fund an international force to work with both the Israeli and Palestinian police forces to repress extremists on both sides who will resort to violence to prevent the implementation of any agreement and to enforce an end to the teaching of hatred in the media and classrooms of both Israel and Palestine.
Without that kind of a concrete vision (and there’s more detailed in Embracing Israel/Palestine), the call for hope and trust will fall on deaf ears. Netanyahu may agree to negotiations, but not to substantive concessions. Only a clear plan from the US would change that, and Obama flubbed the opportunity to present such a plan.
And yet, speaking to the deep fears of the Israeli people is exactly what is needed, and he did it brilliantly. But it won’t change anything until the US is willing to paint the picture of a viable peace agreement with major concessions form each side, and to energetically push for it.
So what is Obama willing to push for energetically? Legitimation of a first strike against Iran for the sin of having the nuclear weapons that Israel and the US already have at much higher levels than Iran could likely achieve. This doctrine will backfire in the long run against both Israel and the US. His most concrete point was not about peace-making, but about war-making against Iran, once again signaling that Israel could take this (illegal by international law and stupid by common sense) first strike and have the full military backing of the US. That approach will do far more damage to the security of the US than anything Jonathan Pollard did, and yet Pollard remains in jail when its time to give him clemency (though I detest his politics). By suddenly discrediting the whole notion of nuclear deterrence, Obama has made Israel and the US less secure. There will come a day when other countries will use the same logic to defend a first strike against Israel or the US. Yet deterrence has worked well in the even worse dictatorships of the Soviet Union, and the Iranian leadership understands that using nuclear weapons would lead to Iran being wiped out as a country by a massive Israeli nuclear counter-attack. Iran is not Nazi Germany, and its leaders are far more interested in perpetuating an Islamic state than ended it in one moment of nuclear war. We ask friends to stop friends from driving when drunk—can’t we expect Obama to ask Israelis to not follow a path that might someday lead to the people of the world ganging up on Israel for this violation of international law?
So even though Obama was saying he spoke as a friend, it was not really what a friend needs to do. A friend needs to stand up against self-destructive behavior. Even if Israel “gets away with” a first strike, backed by the U.S. military, it will earn for itself the enmity of people around the world who rightly fear that such a precedent, which already led to the disastrous Iraq war, will set other countries into believing that they too have a right to take first strikes against countries whom they believe MIGHT at some future time use their weapons in a destructive manner. Moreover, we at Tikkun wish to see the oppressive and dictatorial and hate-generating regime in Iran overthrown by its own people, and an Israeli strike will have the opposite effect, forcing Iranians to rally around its own government and giving the Islamic dictatorship the credential of being the representative of all Iranian nationalists while isolating the forces that wish to overthrow it.
And yet, what Obama did do, in trying to speak to the need for feeling safe that so shapes Israeli consciousness, was done brilliantly, a great first step. Unfortunately, given Obama’s track record on human rights and peace, it is unlikely that the next necessary steps will be forthcoming. So we can appreciate the good, including pushing the peace process back into public consciousness in Israel, but notice and bemoan a huge opportunity lost at the moment before the new Israeli government consolidates itself around Netanyahu-sponsored intransigence.
The crowd in Jerusalem Thursday was a stark reminder that many Israelis simply do not live and breathe politics, the conflict, or other issues that are breathing down Obama’s neck. But the real question was posed by one youngster who on the bus ride back to Tel Aviv kept shaking his head, saying, “I wonder what will come of it.”
By Dahlia Scheindlin, +972
March 21, 2013
President Obama gave a master speech at the convention center in Jerusalem Thursday night. Gone was the stammering, glancing-around insecurity he showed in his interview with Israeli Channel 2 prior to the visit, or the cautious pauses on display in his press conference on the first day of the trip.
The president seemed to have branded the event in his mind on one hand as a young person’s moment, wearing his flowing, casual style like a hip jacket – he jogged onto the stage as if stumping in Ohio, practically catching the audience by surprise; on the other hand, his speech seemed designed to plant tiny seeds of big ideas, through the gravitas and sensitivity of his words.
He gave the old standard of America being Israel’s best friend; he joked and he played the “sahbak” – chummy pal – and cracked out some strategically placed words in Hebrew. The reassurance factor could not have been stronger, and when it reached its peak, he turned to the “but.” There was no more caring way to say it: as a friend, tough things need to be said sometimes. He pre-empted rejection by acknowledging that not everyone would like what he had to say and then spent substantial moments humanizing Palestinians (if this sounds colonialist and patronizing to Palestinians, the sad truth is that Israeli society needs it). He described their rights and the constraints on those rights, through daily tribulations. For a moment there, I felt he was bringing the occupation to the Jerusalem convention center. There is much more that could have been said but for an Israeli mainstream audience in the heart of Jerusalem, it was as bold as a U.S. president could be expected to provide.
Did the audience hear it? Did they want to hear it?
The students who gathered in uncharacteristically patient crowds waiting in line to pass through security were truly fresh-faced. Although we know it from the ballot boxes, a crowd like this was a stark reminder that many Israelis simply do not live and breathe politics, the conflict, or other issues that are breathing down Obama’s neck. Diana, a 25-year old student about to graduate from the Technion University in Haifa, said she was there mainly because she thought it would be an exciting way to end her studies – but she expected him to talk about “the usual things.” She and her friend Gal are both students of material sciences and engineering. Gal said he was most interested in hearing what was important for Obama, rather than holding any of his own expectations.
A trio of Druze university students waiting in the lobby bubbled with excitement. One of them Iman, said he had no idea what Obama might say, but assumed he would touch on “important things,” like U.S.-Israel cooperation, maybe the peace process, maybe Israel’s role in the Middle East. Evelyn, from Ben Gurion University, said that her main expectation was simply to be there for the “historic event,” by which, it turned out, she meant the strengthening of the Israel-U.S. alliance. She saw Obama as an “inspirational man” who could emphasize the need for education, the need to improve relations between countries, and spread peace, “because that’s what Barack Obama is about.”
I wondered what they were thinking during the speech. I wondered if they were among those who cheered and clapped when Obama talked about how Israel will always exist, and that as long as America exists, “You are not alone” (I will not attempt to reproduce his strained Hebrew, but it elicited thrills from the audience every time).
Or were they among those showering huge applause and ovations when the president served up his “tough talk?” The crowd clapped at length and with energy when he spoke of the need to ensure Israel’s future by establishing an “independent and viable Palestine.” Perhaps the most emotional moment was when he went “off-script” to talk about meeting with Palestinian youngsters, and how sure he was that Israeli parents, too, would want the same things for them that they do for their own children. He told the audience to put themselves in the Palestinians’ shoes and that, I can say with some confidence, is almost never done.
It was not a given, but it was pleasantly surprising to feel that the audience gave rousing, emotional applause at these moments. They felt louder and more excited than the clapping on cue for the regular messaging. The ovations sounded like those of people who not only agreed, but finally felt that the most important person in the world had vindicated their ideas.
After the speech, I didn’t find the same students whom I spoke with earlier, but speaking to others, the words “inspiration” and “impressive” came up frequently. It is easy to be cynical; we might have wanted him to push the envelope much harder on the conflict. But the 28-year old student I spoke to afterwards, who served for six years in the Israeli Air Force, and said he moved from right, to center-”ish” and maybe a bit more left, and was thinking hard about Obama’s words.
But the real question was best articulated by another youngster, a 23-year old student named Eran in his first year of political science and economics at Hebrew University. He had watched the speech on television, and lauded the fact that the president put the real issues on the table. On the long bus ride back to Tel Aviv, however, he kept shaking his head and gazing out the window, saying, “I wonder what will come of it.”
While Obama’s speech was biased, antiquated and problematic, it did include a handful of statements, ideas and words that provide even the slightest bit of hope.
By Moriel Rothman, +972
March 22, 2013
So. Huh. President Barack Obama just finished his speech here in Jerusalem, a few blocks away from where I am sitting. I want to get some thoughts out, initial reactions before I delve into others’ analyses, interpretations, et cetera. The speech was, as we all knew that it would be, filled with strategic gloop designed to make Israelis feel good. Most of it was vague, theoretical, and not substantially or symbolically different than the massive Israeli and American flags pasted all over the stage (and the city). Fine. It’s a strategy, and from my initial read of the media and conversations overheard on the street, a strategy that seems to be working: Israelis are feeling good about this trip and about Obama. There were two points that I noticed in which the gloop did get specific enough to be harmful (and I imagine I missed a few more like this- again, this is a First Reaction piece): (1) he reiterated and defended US veto of all Palestinian initiatives in the UN. To be expected, but still not good. (2) This might be the low point: He explicitly called for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. Even though the US has articulated similar positions in the past, that rearticulation did not need to happen today, and it is a dangerous pre-condition and just a bad thing in many other ways (I’ll explain that more in another post). I thought that he’d actually brilliantly skirted this one when he asserted earlier in the speech that Israel had the right to demand that Hamas renounce violence and recognize its right to exist. Not its right to exist as a Jewish State. So, I’m not sure about this point.
I have say that I was very surprised, positively, by the speech. I knew it was going to be filled with gloop. I did not know that it would include a handful of statements, ideas and words that would give me tiny, teensy glimmers of, well, hope?
Those statements, ideas and words, in list form:
(1) He said the words “Independent Palestine” twice.
(2) He called the IDF a “Foreign Army” in terms of its actions in Palestine.
(3) He condemned settler violence and the failure to punish it. He also spoke out against destruction of farmers’ land, restriction of students’ movement and the eviction of families.
(4) He gave credit to and noted the many young Palestinians who have rejected violence.
(5) And he said the words (a) “Occupation” (which was a pleasant surprise and made it such that he passed my Haiku Test) and (b) “Expulsion” (which was actually sort of a shock).
So, while the speech was of course biased, antiquated, problematic, gloop-filled, and everything else that my radical colleagues predicted it would be and will analyze it as having been, these five points are worth considering. And worth emphasizing and repeating, because we have the opportuntiy, right now, to construct the meaning of this speech, as much as any political pundits or newscasters do. So: The President of the United States said that “Neither Occupation nor Expulsion is the answer.” Neither Occupation nor Expulsion is the answer.
Neither Occupation nor Expulsion is the answer.
Moriel Rothman is an American-Israeli writer and activist. He is based in Jerusalem and blogs independently at www.TheLefternWall.com.
Richard Falk, blog
March 24, 2013
It was master-crafted as an ingratiating speech by the world’s most important leader and the government that has most consistently championed Israel’s cause over the decades. Enthusiastically received by the audience of Israeli youth, and especially by liberal Jews around the world. Despite the venue, President Obama’s words in Jerusalem on March 21st seemed primarily intended to clear the air somewhat in Washington. Obama may now have a slightly better chance to succeed in his second legacy-building presidential term despite a deeply polarized U.S. Congress, and a struggling American economy if assessed from the perspective of workers’ distress rather than on the basis of robust corporate profits.
As for the speech itself, it did possess several redeeming features. It did acknowledge that alongside Israeli security concerns “Palestinian people’s right of self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized.” This affirmation was followed by the strongest assertion of all: “..put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” To consider the realities of the conflict through Palestinian eyes is to confront the ugly realities of prolonged occupation, annexationist settlement projects, an unlawful separation wall, generations confined to the misery of refugee camps and exile, second-class citizenship in Israel, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, and a myriad of regulations that make the daily life of Palestinians a narrative of humiliation and frustration. Of course, Obama did not dare to do this. None of these realities were specified, being left to the imagination of his audience of Israeli youth, but at least the general injunction to see the conflict through the eyes of the other pointed the way toward empathy and reconciliation.
Obama also encouraged in a helpful way Israeli citizen activism on behalf of a just peace based on two states for two peoples. A bit strangely he urged that “for the moment, put aside the plans and process” by which this goal might be achieved, and “instead..build trust between people.” Is this not an odd bit of advice? It seems a stretch to stress trust when the structures and practice of occupation are for the Palestinians unremittingly cruel, exploitative, and whittle away day after day at the attainability of a viable Palestinian state. But this farfetched entreaty was coupled with a more plausible plea: “I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” There is some genuine hope to be found in these inspirational words, but to what end given the present situation.
In my opinion the speech was deeply flawed in three fundamental respects:
–by speaking only to Israeli youth, and not arranging a parallel talk in Ramallah to Palestinian youth, the role of the United States as ‘dishonest broker’ was brazenly confirmed; it also signaled that the White House was more interested in appealing to the folks in Washington than to those Palestinians trapped in the West Bank and Gaza, an interpretation reinforced by laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl but refusing to do so at the tomb of Yasir Arafat. This disparity of concern was further exhibited when Obama spoke of the children of Sderot in southern Israel, “the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.” To make such an observation without even mentioning the trauma-laden life of children on the other side of the border in Gaza who have been living for years under conditions of blockade, violent incursions, and total vulnerability year after year is to subscribe fully to the one-sided Israeli narrative as to the insecurity being experienced by the two peoples.
–by speaking about the possibility of peace based on the two state consensus, the old ideas, without mentioning developments that have made more and more people skeptical about Israeli intentions is to lend credence to what seems more and more to be a delusionary approach to resolving the conflict. Coupling this with Obama’s perverse injunction to the leaders of the Middle East that seems willfully oblivious to the present set of circumstances makes the whole appeal seem out of touch: “Now’s the time for the Arab world to take steps towards normalizing relations with Israel.” How can now be the time, when just days earlier Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in the history of Israel, selecting a cabinet that is deeply dedicated to settlement expansion and resistant to the very idea of a genuine Palestinian state? It should never be forgotten that when the Palestinian Liberation Organization announced back in 1988 that it was prepared to make a sustained peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. By doing this, the Palestinians were making an extraordinary territorial concession that has never been reciprocated. The move meant accepting a state limited to 22% of historic Palestine, or less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan contained in GA Resolution 181. To expect the Palestinians to be willing now to accept less than these 1967 borders to reach a resolution of the conflict seems unreasonable, and probably not sustainable.
–by endorsing the formula two states for two peoples was consigning the Palestinian minority in Israel to permanent second-class citizenship without even being worthy of mention as a human rights challenge facing the democratic Israel that Obama was celebrating. As David Bromwich has pointed out [“Tribalism in the Jerusalem speech,”] http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/tribalism-jerusalem-speech.html Obama was also endorsing a tribalist view of statehood that seem inconsistent with a globalizing world, and with secularist assumptions that the state should not be exclusivist in either religious or ethnic character. The core Zionist idea of a statist homeland where all Jews can most fully embrace their Jewishness: Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.”
Such a regressive approach to identity and statehood was also by implication attributed to the Palestinians, also affirmed as entitled. But this is highly misleading, a false symmetry. The Palestinians have no guiding ideology that is comparable to Zionism. Their quest has been to recover rights under international law in the lands of their habitual residence, the exercise of the right of self-determination in such a manner as to roll back the wider claims of settler colonialism so grandiosely part of the vision and practice of the Netanyahu government. Indeed, Obama’s speech was also an affront to many Israeli post-Zionists and secularists who do not affirm the idea of living under in a hyper-nationalist state with pretensions of religious endowments.
In my view, there are two conclusions to be drawn. (1) Until the rhetoric of seeing the realities of the situation through Palestinian eyes is matched by a consideration of the specifics, there is created a misleading impression that both sides hold equally the keys to peace, and both being at fault to the same extent for being unwilling to use them. (2) It is a cruel distraction to urge a resumption of negotiations when Israel clearly lacks the political will to establish a Palestinian state within 1967 borders and in circumstances in which the West Bank has been altered by continuous settlement expansion, settler only roads, the separation wall, and all the signs are suggesting that there is more of the same to come. Making matters even worse, Israel is taking many steps to ensure that Jerusalem never becomes the capital of whatever Palestinian entity eventually emerges.
In retrospect, worse than speech was the visit itself. Obama should never have undertaken such the visit without an accompanying willingness to treat the Palestinian reality with at least equal dignity to that of the Israeli reality and without some indication of how to imagine a just peace based on two states for two peoples given the severe continuing Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory that give every indication of permanence. Obama made no mention of the wave of recent Palestinian hunger strikes or the degree to which Palestinians have shifted their tactics of resistance away from a reliance on violence. It is perverse to heap praise on the oppressive occupier, and then call on both peoples to move forward toward peace by building relations of trust with one another. On what planet has Mr. Obama been living?