Obama's Middle East pragmatism
HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 5/27/2011, 3:28 p.m.
On Thursday, May 19, the birthday of Malcolm X, President Barack Obama delivered a speech on the Middle East, a speech that he reaffirmed several days later before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Once again, Obama's pragmatism has surfaced, as in the speech he attempted to appease both the Israeli government and the Pales- tinian people.
While the Israelis were definitely pleased to hear the presi- dent emphasize the nation's security, they took exception to his call to extending its borders to those that existed prior to 1967.
"The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine," Obama stated. "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sov- ereign and contiguous state."
Obama saved this core piece of his address for the end of the address, making sure he had first touched on the significance of the "Arab spring," the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the ongoing conflict in and ultimate withdrawal of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.
But it was the impasse in the Middle East, the seemingly implacable struggle between Israel and Palestine, that held the most interest for the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, which recently joined forces, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister.
To be sure, the Palestinians may like the return to the 1967 borders, but they will probably be incensed by Obama's definition of Palestine's sovereignty in the two-state solution."As for security, every state has the right to self-defense and Israel must be able to de- fend itself-by itself-against any threat," Obama asserted. "Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltra- tion of weapons and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assump- tion of Palestinian securityresponsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition pe- riod must be agreed, and the ef- fectiveness of security arrange- ments must be demonstrated."
It would appear that at some point during the negotiations the leaders of Hamas and Fatah will move to strike the idea that Palestine, unlike Israel, should be in no position to defend itself militarily.
Key to Israel's demands is that the state be recognized, particularly by Hamas-it is fu- tile to talk about borders whenone of the parties involved re- fuses to accept your very exis- tence.
In a few days, Obama will be faced with yet another chal- lenging dilemma if the European Union decides to vote in a measure assuring Palestine statehood.
Having dispatched the Israel/Palestine problem, Obama went on to itemize four things he is seeking to affect in the coming days. First, at next week's G-8 summit he will present a plan to stabilize and mod- ernize the economies of Tunisiaand Egypt. Second, he promised to re-
lieve Egypt's debt by guaran- teeing $1 billion for the country. Third, working together with Congress, he will create enterprise funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. And, finally, "the United States will launch a comprehensive trade and investment partnership initiative in the Middle East and North Africa," he said.
"We will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integrationwith U.S. and European markets and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy," which should "create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa."
Perhaps this is the carrot he's offering to the EU to influence its vote on Palestinian statehood.