Obama Caught Between Israel and Palestine

A border dispute

In a 45-minute Middle East speech on May 19, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to say the future Palestinian state should be formed within the borders established before 1967. He specifically said that the border between Israel and the future State of Palestine should “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

Obama’s speech did not present clear proposals regarding options for the return of hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees (the Arab world insists on their return to the towns and villages in Israeli territory they had left).

That stance provoked a storm of criticism from the Israeli government. After giving Obama’s commitment to the peace process high marks, the Israeli Cabinet said a viable Palestinian state cannot be created the expense of the viability of the world’s only Jewish state. It also issued a statement urging Barack Obama to reaffirm all of the promises he had given Israel concerning “non-return to 1967 borders»

It appears that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has surpassed himself, apparently remembering that the Knesset elections are not far off. Immediately after Obama’s speech and the meeting with him in Washington, Netanyahu categorically rejected the proposal to return to the 1967 borders. Netanyahu said that a return to 1967 would make it impossible for Israel to defend itself, and he also reminded people that tens of thousands of Israelis are living beyond the Green Line, reiterating that a retreat to the 1967 borders is out of the question.

Changing his tune

Then three days later Obama sang a different tune during a speech he gave to the ten thousand attendees at the annual congress of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington.

In his speech to the largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby in America, Obama focused primarily on the strength of the historical ties between Israel and the United States. According to Obama, this strength is more significant than the ongoing controversy over settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Secondly, the U.S. president delighted the U.S. Jewish lobby by saying that Americans will not allow the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, he also promised to demand that Hamas comply with all of the Quartet’s terms: primarily recognition of Israel, but also the immediate release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, who is being held prisoner.

Obama also stressed that the United States will continue to oppose all attempts to “de-legitimize Israel.” He said that the unity government of Fatah and Hamas must clarify its attitude toward Israel, the recognition of which is the cornerstone of Middle East politics, calling its attempt to bypass Israel and win formation of the state through the UN unrealistic.

In addition, Obama confirmed his earlier commitment to increase military aid to Israel and ensure its “qualitative military edge” in light of growing threats.

And most importantly, he addressed the border issue. Although he reiterated that a Middle East peace settlement must be based on the 1967 borders, he stressed that in his May 19th speech he did not mean to imply a return to the borders of June 4, 1967. He emphasized that he was talking about a line adjusted for the current situation that involves “mutually agreed swaps” of territories. It is no wonder that even Israeli commentators have called Obama’s speech to the AIPAC Congress “pro-Israeli.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s Middle East balancing act noticeably upset the “Arab street, except for the pro-American media. Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan called Barack Obama’s speech a “disaster” that showed disregard for Palestinian rights and supported the occupation. He also said that Obama in fact opposed the founding of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. And the popular “Al-Quds al-Arabi” newspaper published a comment on Obama’s speech under the eloquent headline: “Barack Obama’s Disgraceful and Ignoble Capitulation.”

Why is Obama waffling like this?

Between the Jewish lobby and Arab oil?

The first reason is certainly the Jewish lobby. It is almost impossible to become president in America without its support.

Incidentally, who better than Obama? It is well known that the Republicans’ abandonment in 2008 of the Clinton Parameters for Middle East settlement (established at Camp David in 2000) was the reason for the change of attitude by the US Jewish lobby, which contributed greatly to Obama’s victory during the last presidential election…

A passage in the Al-Quds al-Arabi article is germane: “And not two days later, Obama departed from his stated principles on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. He clearly needs the Jewish vote in the election, but the superpower head gave in so quickly and without much pressure being applied to him—or was it?!”

The second reason is Arab (mainly Saudi) oil.

It is telling that Obama’s speech tiptoed cautiously around the Persian Gulf Arab states, and no mention at all was made of the country that is currently the “key” player in the Arab world—Saudi Arabia.

And that despite the fact that it was the Saudi army that suppressed the Shiite uprising in Bahrain; and Salafist ideas, which currently have the entire region worked up, originated in Saudi Arabia.

However, “liberal democratic” values fade into the background when dealing with the country that supplies the world market with a quarter of its oil.

Therefore, Obama obviously chose to perform a Middle East balancing act by trying to cross the Middle East interests of the US Jewish lobby with the 2003 Saudi peace initiative.

The question boils down to this: will he himself become a victim of this strange Middle Eastern geopolitical “hybrid?”

Source: New Eastern Outlook

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