June 5, 2009

The cairo context

To some degree, I understand the argument that President Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday wasn't much different from a speech that President Bush would have given.

And if you read some of the more detailed analyses of the speech (like Bookworm's or the Provocateur's) you can clearly see the good points and the bad points. And yet when I wrote my first post on the speech it was negative.

Content, though, is one thing. Context is another matter entirely.

Consider my initial post on the speech. I'll admit, I hadn't read the whole speech at that point. I was relying on a Washington Post report. What was the emphasis of the Post's report?

At the same time, he said, "it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland . . . They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. 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 audience, which had stayed silent while Obama described the U.S.-Israel relationship, anti-Semitism and the legacy of the Holocaust, broke into warm applause.

Obama sharply criticized Israel's policy of settlement construction in lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, parts of which the Palestinians envision as their future state. He said "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

The media acts as a filter and a magnifier. Sure later on, President Obama talked about how the Arab states ought not to let the Palestinian issue stop them from political reform, but this was early in the speech. President Obama had to know two things. One is that his audience would love his evocation of the Israeli occupation and the other is that most major news organizations. well aware of the diplomatic maneuvering with Prime Minister Netanyahu would emphasize the rebuke he was directing towards Israel.

Another thing the President could count on, is that the major media reporting would gloss over the fact that his demands on Israel represented a sharp break from previous administrations. Even the administration of Bill Clinton.

Still one could argue that the President first rebuked the Arab world for its Holocaust denial, so the rebuke of Israel was part of a balancing act. The Wall Street Journal doesn't buy the balancing act but still its editors wrote:

The President even went one better than his predecessor, with a series of implicit rebukes to much of the Muslim world. There would have been no need for him to specify that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis if Holocaust denial weren't rampant in the Middle East, including Egypt, ...

But think about that for a moment. Egypt, which made peace with Israel over 30 years ago, still propagates some of the most vile antisemitism in the region. And go back to the Washington Post report. The President's comments on the Holocaust elicited no response from the audience. And this is in a country that's been paid $2 billion a year for its ostensible peace with Israel!

The President's remarks about Holocaust denial weren't part of any larger campaign. They were uttered in a vacuum. Has the President pursued this issue as actively and publicly as he's pursued the "settlement" issue?

A similar analysis applies to the President's exhortation to the Arab world not to use the Palestinian issue as an excuse for blocking political reform. This isn't an issue he's promoted elsewhere. So in effect the good statements the President made, appear to be lip service to moderation, while he pursues a path of trying to pressure the one target he believes is susceptible to pressure. He does not care if his exhortations to the Arab world are heeded. He can say the America's bond with Israel is "unbreakable" but if his actions demonstrate that he's only interested in getting to a Palestinian "yes" regardless of the cost to Israel, then his assurance is meaningless.

The editors of the Washington Post fear that there's only one message that the Arab world will hear from the speech. They recommend that the President continue to push these issues. An AP writer took the same message from the speech and wrote a news "analysis" that puts the onus of peacemaking on Israel.

There are other contexts that were missing from his speech. JoshuaPundit criticizes the President for failing to recognize how mainstream extremism is in Islam. Wolf Howling shows that the President rewrote history.

Rather it appears that what's driving the President is to make new friends even if they're enemies, at the expense of an old friend. And I don't think h'es stupid or naive. I think he is very smart and very driven ideologically. More and more Ali Abunimah looks vindicated.

UPDATE: One other point that has to be made is that President Obama sought a "peace gesture" from the Arab world and was rebuffed.

But when he meets in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, with King Abdullah, he should be prepared for a polite but firm refusal, Saudi officials and political experts say. The Arab countries, they say, believe they have already made their best offer and that it is now up to Israel to make a gesture, perhaps by dismantling settlements in the West Bank or committing to a two-state solution.

"What do you expect the Arabs to give without getting anything in advance, if Israel is still hesitating to accept the idea of two states in itself?" said Mohammad Abdullah al-Zulfa, a historian and member of the Saudi Shura Council, which serves as an advisory panel in place of a parliament.

Unlike in the case of settlements where President Obama issued an unqualified disagreement with Israel, the President stepped very gingerly around this rebuff.

The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. ... We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away.

If he were being balanced, he would have specifically mentioned that Arab states ought to treat Israel as a legitimate state. He didn't even ask them to do that publicly.

Instead the President took a diplomatic dispute with Israel and amplified it. And he failed to address the Saudi refusal to offer even a symbolic gesture to Israel.

Crossposted on Yourish.

Posted by SoccerDad at June 5, 2009 10:23 AM
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At the same time, he said, "it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland ..."
doesn't obama relies that the palestinians 60 years ago already had a homeland and were ethnic cleansed and dispossessed of it, and couldn't return because they were the wrong religion.

Posted by: sass at June 5, 2009 7:51 AM

The only people who were ethnically cleansed and couldn't return because they were the wrong religion were Jews from muslim countries.

The "Palestinians" were displaced not because of Israel but by the Arab world which rejected the UN partition plan of 1947 and instead went to war against the nascent Jewish state. The Arabs are responsible for the "palestinian" refugees. Furthermore it wasn't their homeland, the palestinians consisted of Arabs who migrated to Palestine from surrounding Arab nations. How many times does own have to emphasize to clueless individuals like yourself that there was never any such sovereign state of Palestine, it was a territory. The Jews having greater claim given their 3000 year unbroken history in Israel. And finally, an Arab state was already created in Palestine, that would be Jordan.

It's really become tiresome correcting your endless distortions and outright lies and historical revisionism, sass. But your tripe can't go unchallenged.

Posted by: Laura at June 5, 2009 11:48 AM

The President is ideologically driven. He has a view of the world that says if the West delivers Israel, the West's enemies will see the light and drop the Islamic extremism and the jihad. Obama will learn soon enough that just because he wants something doesn't mean it is going to happen or that it will necessarily strengthen US in an important part of the world. When ideology clashes with reality, reality always asserts itself. And to imagine Israel can rearrange things so the Middle East is like Obama pictures it will be, is just asking too much from even the triumph of hope over experience.

Posted by: NormanF at June 5, 2009 2:31 PM

and the nazi never killed one jew.

laura you are a racist bigot who is full of shit.

Posted by: sass at June 5, 2009 6:13 PM

'When ideology clashes with reality, reality always asserts itself'

does that inlude the jewish fundermentalist settlers who harass the arabs from their homes which causes the arabs to resistance. and what about the zionist claim to palestine which already had a muslim ,christian and jewish population who were against a jewish state in a arab country. reality has never stood in the way of zionism. its the lack of reality which has caused this conflict to last so long, which israel is always trying to change with 'facts on the ground'.

Posted by: sass at June 5, 2009 6:51 PM

I personally thought that the President's speech was great. Laura - two things... One - didn't the jews migrate across a desert after being enslaved by an Egyptian pharoh until they reached someplace called Canaan where they proceeded to rape and pillage the natives and drive them out of their homeland? Two - no one is denying the presence of Jewish residents in the "Palestinian territory" prior to the creation of Israel, but there are a whole lot of European Jews who I don't believe have a very solid claim to the land, certainly not the 3,000 year-old one you claim.

Posted by: Correction at June 5, 2009 7:03 PM

Hi SD,
Forgive me, but I think you missed something.Our Prevaricator-In-chief mentioned the Holocaust for three reasons.

First, this was his way of greasing the stoo-pid Lefty Jews on the home front to cover for his harsh demands on Israel.

Second, it was his way of playing to his audience by embracing the Arab ficition on Israel..that the Jews had no real claim to `Arab' land,but it was created because of European guilt for the Holocaust. He said nothing about the Jewish people's historic claim to Israel or about the fact that the Balfour Declaration and the 1922 League of nations mandate established the legal basis for Israel's creation.

Third, he used the Holocaust to set up the next part of the speech. After talking about the Holocaust, this @##! equated it with the suffering of the Palestinians, thus adding the weight of his endorsement to the lies told by people like Yasir Arafat and his ilk for years and endorsing the modern anti-Semitic meme that modern Israel consists of Nazis colonizing Arab Land.

Trust me, the Arab world got all those nuances.


Posted by: Rob at June 5, 2009 7:04 PM

The reason settlements are such an issue is that Israel agreed to stop building them long ago, but has never kept their word. I am one of those people that you would accuse of being anti-Israel, but I'm not really. Israel doesn't keep its promises. Israel has no legitamate claim to East Jerusalem, but uses a refusal to give it back to the Arabs as an excuse to not reach a peace deal. Time and again I've seen Israel do things which are designed to make it appear that Israel is serious about peace and shift the blame to the Palestinians, when really Israel knows that it has included an absurd, unacceptable condition or actively tries to undermine the Palestinians' capacity to meet a certain criteria. Restraining violence is a good example. Israel works non-stop to minimize the actual capacity of the Palestinian Security Forces while insisting that the Palestinians stop violence before proceeding with the Road Map. Israel is clearly hoping to delay the peace process long enough to build settlements and expand settlers' families so that they can say "why should this person whose family has lived here for three generations be uprooted: that's unjust!"

Posted by: Correction at June 5, 2009 7:14 PM

I think there are two things to recall about President Obama's Cairo speech. In Arab lands it had two audiences: those who actually heard the speech and those who read reports about it.

Most of those who actually heard the speech were officials. Their minds are already made up and the content of the speech was less important to them than the fact of it.

Take a look at the coverage of the speech in the Arab language media. Those who've only read reports of the speech have received a highly censored view. Gone are the references to democracy, rights, and the need for the Palestians to foreswear violence.

Posted by: Dave Schuler at June 10, 2009 5:15 PM
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