Friday, June 5, 2009

It's All About Israel/Palestine

When reading the reactions to Obama's speech yesterday, you wonder why our stance in the Israel/Palestine conflict doesn't get the attention that it deserves as central source of disagreement between the US and the Muslim world. The Iraq war was a huge source of tension and our involvement in Afghanistan remains an issue to a lesser degree, but at the end of the day, our our unconditional support of Israel's extremely unpopular foreign policy will be the most important issue in that relationship. Politico analyzes the applause (or non-applause) lines:
Similarly, when Obama talked about “America’s strong bonds with Israel” and said that bond “is unbreakable” there was no applause.

The crowd was far more receptive, erupting into applause and shouts, when Obama moved on to the plight of the Palestinian people and said: “So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

“The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security,” Obama said to applause.

But the lines that followed were met by a vast stillness. “Palestinians must abandon violence,” Obama said. “Violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.”

Obama was repeatedly interrupted by applause, however, when he said the following: “At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel ’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

Juan Cole:
I think he may be reading too much into some moments of silence, but he is absolutely correct that Obama's even-handedness in defending Israel would not have been and was not popular. Arab publics think that Israel has been doing something criminal to the Palestinians, and they can't understand why the international community condones it.
This makes Obama's refusal to engage in the usual US/Israeli Kabuki dance even more encouraging. The reality of the situation is that our relations with the Muslim world won't significantly improve until our role in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict changes. If he keeps up his actions on that front, he has the potential to change the way the US is seen throughout the world for generations. His willingness to confront Israel's hard line stance on the settlements has been (in my opinion) the most impressive achievement of his presidency so far. There's a long, long road ahead, but his actions on this issue so far make the future look extremely bright.

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