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Obama and Israel: An Analysis of Barack Obama's AIPAC Speech

How Obama Hawked Up His Middle East Policy -- and Talked Tough on Iran


Obama and Israel: An Analysis of Barack Obama's AIPAC Speech

Barack Obama

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Obama and Iran

John McCain, the Republican nominee for the presidency, has blistered Obama for declaring himself willing to negotiate with Iran. In his AIPAC speech, Obama took a more nuanced approach than previously regarding his own position, and a far more hawkish tone regarding Iran itself. “There is no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and the stability of the region than Iran,” he said, raising another question: Does he consider the threat of al-Qaeda (which has “stepped up recruiting”) less serious?

Obama mentioned al-Qaeda only once in his speech. He mentioned Iran 32 times, mostly to denote its belligerence and his willingness to take it on, militarily if necessary:

I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon--everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon--everything. That starts with aggressive principled tough diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste. We cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have tried limited piecemeal talks while we outsource the sustained work to our European allies. It has not worked; it is time for the United States to lead. […] And contrary to the claims of some I have no interest in sitting down with our adversary just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing if--and only if it can advance the interests of the United States.
The statement is murky: he won’t sit down with Ahmadinejad just for the sake of talking, but he will sit down with “the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing.” Would that include Ahmadinejad, if he is still =resident of Iran following Iran’s upcoming presidential elections?

Just as interestingly, Obama showed that he backs up his threat of more serious sanctions on an uncooperative Iran with action. A year ago, he said, he introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate that “would encourage states and the private sector to divest from companies that do business in Iran. […] This Bill has bipartisan support but for reasons that I’ll let him explain, Senator McCain never signed on. Meanwhile an anonymous Senator is blocking the Bill.”

That tells you where some lawmakers’ allegiance finally falls, when it comes to American business—never stand in the way of a buck, whatever the politics may be.

Little Sympathy for Arabs

Throughout the speech, Obama spoke of the Arab-Israeli conflict mostly as an issue for Israelis and Americans to resolve, on Israel’s terms. Palestinians figured almost not at all in the speech, except in two pointed references. He referred to Palestinians “committed to cracking down on terror and carrying the burden of peace-making,” a remark that essentially identified, if not defined, Palestinians exclusively with terrorism.

He also suggested that Israel can “advance the cause of peace by taking appropriate steps consistent with it security to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians and improve economic conditions in the West Bank and to refrain from building new settlements as it’s agreed to do with the Bush Administration at Annapolis.”

That’s as forceful as Obama got with Israel. Which is to say, he ducked one of the main obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, an obstacle, in this case, squarely of Israel’s doing—the building of settlements in the West Bank. Note that Obama suggested an end to future settlement activity, not a retrenchment of settlements that have turned about 20 percent of the West Bank into de-facto Israeli territory. Obama did not once mention the Separation wall Israel is building inside the West Bank, appropriating hundreds of square miles along the way and expelling thousands of Palestinians from land rightfully theirs.

The Jerusalem Gaffe

What riled Arabs and Palestinians most, however, was this statement: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”

When Israel’s “Basic Law” upheld Jerusalem as its capital in 1980, the United Nations responded with a resolution declaring Israel’s act “null and void” under international law. Even in the eyes of official American policy—including the eyes of every president, George W. Bush among them—Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel. The United States has refused to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as have all but a handful of countries.

According to the Middle East Times , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Obama's Jerusalem statement was “totally rejected. The whole world knows that East Jerusalem, holy Jerusalem, was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having [East] Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.”

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