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The New Rules: Obama's Israel-Palestine Red Herring

Monday, May 23, 2011

Much of the reaction to President Barack Obama's speech on U.S. Middle East policy last Thursday focused on his reference to Israel's pre-1967 borders as the basis for a future two-state solution with Palestine. But Obama's speech was far more focused on long-term realities, suggesting that he is not really willing to push for some historic Israeli-Palestinian peace plan against the background of the Arab Spring. In fact, it's fair to wonder why he chose to expend any of his political capital on this deadlocked issue, especially since he had to know that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would reject the 1967 boundaries proposal as a starting point for negotiations, as Netanyahu had already protested that point's inclusion in the speech prior to its delivery.

Now, despite having walked back his criticisms of the speech over the weekend, Netanyahu's ice-cold visit to the White House on Friday becomes the historical coda to what was billed as a framing speech for the region as a whole.  That's too bad, because it was actually a tremendous speech, full of what I would call "developmental realism." Not only did Obama eschew any direct promises of toppling leaders, he coupled a passive-tense treatment of American leadership with a clear repudiation of the notion that elections alone can bring "real reform." Thus he spent the bulk of his speech listing all the vast social reforms -- freedom of religion, women's rights -- that must undergird political change, while stating unequivocally that all such transformations are unsustainable absent broadband economic development. ...

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