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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 20-May-2011
20-May-11 News -- Obama and Netanyahu in sharp disagreement after speech

Web Log - May, 2011

20-May-11 News -- Obama and Netanyahu in sharp disagreement after speech

Confrontation will continue when Netanyahu speaks to Congress

Obama and Netanyahu in sharp disagreement after speech

When President George Bush announced his Mideast Roadmap to Peace in 2003, I wrote that the plan could never succeed because the survivors of the genocidal 1936-49 war between Arabs and Jews, including Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, were disappearing, and the younger post-war generations would be refighting that war.

Obama and Netanyahu
Obama and Netanyahu

It's almost exactly eight years later. Ariel Sharon is in a permanent vegetative state and Yasser Arafat is dead, though the latter has been replaced by another war survivor, Mahmoud Abbas, and as such is probably the most conciliatory actor among those currently on stage.

And so watching and listening to the speech on Thursday by the youthful Gen-Xer President Barack Obama, I felt a sense of déjà vu.

Suddenly I was thrust back to 2008, in the days of candidate Obama's campaign rhetoric. He was going to heal the world as soon as he took office. He would be guided by facts, not like President Bush, who was guided by ideology and ignored facts. He would cure global warming, close Guantanamo, become friendly with Iran and North Korea, bring a two-state solution to Palestinians and Israelis, beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, reflate the real estate and stock market bubbles and, of course, provide universal health care. He's failed at all of these objectives (except possibly reflating the stock market bubble).

Possibly my greatest single shock about the campaign occurred after Obama won the election. Instead of moving to the center and repudiating some of the looniest promises, he repeated them, and added that the world was going to change on January 21. I believe the exact words that went through my mind were, "Omigod!! He actually believes his campaign rhetoric!!"

So that feeling came to me again on Thursday. Apparently the youthful Gen-Xer President Obama still believes that all he has to do is give a speech and the world will heal. That's the only thing I can think of that explains this incredible speech.

A major change in policy

President Obama's speech "did a great service in sketching out a new paradigm for American engagement with the Middle East," according to an analysis by the Jerusalem Post. The speech was a "major departure" from previous US policy because it's a "substantial shift toward the Palestinian position" in the following ways:

It's hard to know what to make of this, since it's so unrealistic. I guess it's forgiveable though, in the sense that a "realistic" solution does not exist.

Israel's response

The office of Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the following statement immediately after the end of President Obama's speech:

"Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.

That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress.

Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.

Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel.

Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace."

What's remarkable about this statement is that Netanyahu is essentially demanding that Obama retract his speech, something that obviously is not going to happen.

The "U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004," Netanyahu is referring to a commitment by the Bush administration that in exchange for withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu is saying that the U.S. is reneging on its previous commitments.

If any political compromise on this issue is possible, it would have to be in the proposed concepts of "land swaps." Perhaps the Obama administration believes it has found a way to swap chunks of land so cleverly that Israel's security is preserved.

The aftermath

Ordinarily I would say that this speech will be completely forgotten within a week, but that can't happen because Netanyahu is visiting Washington over the weekend, and will be giving a speech to Congress on Tuesday.

The situation in the Mideast is much worse today than it was in 2003, when the Mideast Roadmap was proposed, simply because many more of the generation of conciliatory war survivors are gone:

I could probably go on with dozens more reasons.

It's now May. Think of how much has happened since January, and now imagine how much more is going to happen by December. This is going to be a very significant year.

Palestinian reaction

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Obama's efforts to renew talks with Israel that collapsed last year, and will convene "emergency" talks with Palestinian and Arab officials to consider further steps, according to Haaretz.

A Hamas spokesman said that the speech was disappointing, and that the U.S. president did not propose anything new. "What Obama needs to do is not to add slogans but to take concrete steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation," he said.

Aid to Tunisia and Egypt

In his speech, President Obama promised substantial economic aid to Egypt and Tunisia:

"Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region. And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe."

Both of these economies have been approaching bankruptcy since their respective uprisings began, so this aid is thought to be essential to prevent regional destabilization.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 20-May-11 News -- Obama and Netanyahu in sharp disagreement after speech thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (20-May-2011) Permanent Link
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