Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts On Obama’s Middle East Speech

You can always tell when President Obama means what he is saying. Obama wrote the speech he gave at the memorial service for Congressman Giffords, was always fired up during the campaign because he believed he could bring change to Washington, and obviously wanted to bridge the gap between the two America's he described at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. But today's speech on the Middle East was clearly written for him, probably by some policy wonk in the State Department, whose job was to make sure the President didn't say anything that would end the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians before they got started.

Today's speech came at a time when tensions are high in the region because of the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden and what has been dubbed the Arab Spring. With Israeli President Netanyahu coming to Washington, the State Department's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, quit because of the lack of progress. For the last two years all talks have stopped because Israel realized with the world economy going belly up everyone was focused on other things and could leave them alone. Since then Israel has decided to build more settlements on the borders and has used its military to do so.

So all eyes are on Obama and what he will do next. Since the election, Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, have restored some relations with the Arab countries. But Israel has always been a problem because many of the countries in the nation see America as favoring Israel over the other people living in the region. On the flip side Israel is sometimes afraid of losing America's support and the billions in military aid we have given it over the years. But having visited the country I feel confident in saying the majority of Israeli's not only want peace but would be willing to compromise with the Palestinians and come up with a solution where both can live there.

Obama believes this as well otherwise he wouldn't have said today "At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.  That's certainly true for the two parties involved." And went on to call for both sides to agree to the same terms in 1967 when America and the United Nations agreed to recognize Israel as a state. But the problem is we've seen this play before, and Obama knows this policy isn't going to work.

The more I thought about it, I couldn't think of a good reason for Obama even making the speech today. Some people were saying it would put pressure on Netanyahu, but without the U.S. willing to put something strong on the table like taking away military aid or walk away from its trade agreements, there is no reason for him or other future President of Israel to change their position. American President's have tried to get the two sides to mend ties based on these original borders. But even when they have agreed to do so, like during the Clinton administration, both sides wound up breaking the agreement.

On Tuesday, when Obama gave his speech at Booker T. Washington high school in Tennessee, it was awesome. He wanted to show the graduates and future graduates there that in this country anything was possible. He was charismatic, optimistic, did his best to relate to the audience, and he meant every word. Obama is too smart to not realize he's not doing anything that hasn't already been done or tried before when it comes to Israel. While this speech was to set up next week when Netanyahu gets here, it's only going to be Netanyahu and no one else. So after the Israeli President gives his speech to Congress to tell them how great they are, I'm willing to bet both sides will say the discussions went well and hope to continue them in the future.

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