Obama’s speech May 2011
June 20, 2011 Leave a comment
Once again Obama has stood in front of the nation and gave an inspiring speech. Unlike George Bush, Obama has ability to eloquently convey his message in a clever manner downplaying any obstacles while emphasizing the positives. Painting a beautiful optimistic picture of “Yes we can”.
However, shortly after it was given, the speech was criticized by the Republicans, the conservative media as well as Israel’s PM, Benjamin Netanyahu. All three parties claimed that Obama has betrayed the agreement he signed in 2004. They claim that his insistence of Israel withdrawing back to pre 1967 borders is going to leave Israel vulnerable for attacks and that the issues of Jerusalem sovereignty and the right to return of Palestinian refugees needs to be tackled as part of the same negotiations.
The problem for the majority of Israelis with Obama’s speech is perhaps not so much the content as it is the timing and the possible lack of understanding of the full picture from the beginning of the conflict even before the six days war in 1967.
In 1967 Israel pushed back many of the countries threatening its existence to borders which it could protect. As a consequence of the guarantee of its safety it ended up the Palestinians under its control, which has become the main problem overtime. Since the annexation of the land to Israel, Egypt and Jordan have refused to take it back as part of any treaty and Israel concerned about protecting its boarders thought that keeping the territories would be the least dangerous option.
There is an added complexity to this issue, as some of the territories were once settled by Jews and still contain some of the holiest sites to the Jewish and Christian faiths. This fact has caused a growing movement of right wing religious groups to claim full control of these areas and follow the ideology of the ‘Complete Israel’. A movement, which has grown steadily in recent years due to sheer birth-rate typical to a religious population, but also supported with the Russian immigration, which while not religious is predominantly right wing in its views.
Every realistic Israeli knows that ideas such as transferring the Palestinians to surrounding Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon is not a viable option and even if it were, it probably wouldn’t end the bitterness around the issue, which would still pose a risk in the future. Moreover, none of the surrounding countries have shown any willingness to help their brothers, as the Palestinians are still kept in refugee camps in some countries with very limited civil rights in some cases.
Therefore it is almost a given that a point will come when on the one hand Palestinians will have to forego their idea of settling the entire land of Israel, or to return to all their birth places, which are now part of Israel. And on the other hand, Israel will have to forego their idea of keeping all the holy areas under their control and settling the entire land between the Jordan River and the sea. So Obama is not far off the mark in his speech of the vision of the final solution.
As always though, the devil is in the details. The questions that still need to be negotiated are ones like: “what land does Israel withdraw from and what land it continues to settle?” Or “What are Israel’s territorial needs to protect itself in case it is attacked in the future?” “What would be the agreement around water allocation under the new borders?” …etc. This is not including the big questions such as what will happen with Jerusalem and which, if any, of the approximate 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants would have a right to return to the land and where to excatly.
Despite this known truth to some or coming to terms with for others, in his speech Obama completely ignored the historical process which has been going on for years. In which, there is a clear pattern, in which:
- An agreements is reached/signed.
- A Palestinian leader claims to try, but not to be able to stop the terrorism, which leads to chaos.
- Israel losing faith and not fully fulfilling its part of the agreement
- Mutual accusations and collapse of the process.
- Return to the table with the old agreements as the new basis for further negotiations.
This process started in 1988, while in exile in Tunisia, Arafat accepted the recognition of a Jewish state and to abandon terror (resolution 242), which led to negotiation about borders, which ended in April 1989, when Arafat was elected head of the Palestinian National Council and reversed the agreement with claims for more land and return of terror.
In the Madrid talks, not much was agreed, however by going into talks, Israel stepped through the threshold of officially recognising Arafat as a legitimate entity. The return to violence meant that in the long run Palestinians gained recognition, while Israel gained nothing substantial on the ground.
This Summit was followed by the Oslo Accords, in which once again in exchange for cessation of terror and recognition of Israel, Arafat could return to the West Bank, the Palestinians would receive full control over some areas, trade and water agreement were made to boost the quality of life of the Palestinians. But as before, the terror never stopped. Despite some claims and a few symbolic moves, Arafat showed that he has enough influence to stay in power and suppress any act of rebellion, but not stop the terror or the uprisings (Intefada) that started shortly after (claimed in some sources that he instigated).
So in essence, Arafat was back, recognized as a legitimate ruler, some territories were given back by Israel, yet the terror continued. Since the Oslo accords Gaza was returned to the Palestinians. Many claim that the return of the land was due to internal politics rather than a real step in the peace process, nevertheless, this has not changed the fact that one more big concession was made by Israel with no reciprocation, in fact the situation has gotten worst, since Hamas took control of Gaza and even the fragile cease fires achieved were often broken or not recognized by the smaller more extreme groups, which Hamas claimed it has no control over.
The one glimmer of hope was Abbas, who seemed to actively suppress terror attacks. In fact in recent years the quality of life of the Palestinians in the West Bank has improved greatly, as Israel and Abbas played ball and fulfilled their obligations regarding cooperation and in security and trade. However this all was a temporary situation, as the Jerusalem and settlements issue were still not resolved, with the latter getting worse. This all came to halt, when a peace treaty was signed between Hamas and Fatah in May this year, which is probably due more to the currents of change in the middle east than Hamas and Fatah actually bridging their differences.
So when Obama stood and told Israel that they should return to the borders of 1967 and security land swaps should be negotiated, what he really did was to undermine Israel’s negotiation point even more, as no doubt the next round of negotiations would start from the 1967 borders, undoing whatever demography gains Israel made on the ground, but not undoing any of the concessions Israel has already made.
There is little doubt in my mind that Israel will not move away from the territories as expected, before it is confident that all of its security needs would be met. Nor do I doubt that the Palestinians will take the statements made by Obama and use those as the basis to their claims on borders. So in reality unless the terror attacks on Israel stop and the Hamas recognizes a Jewish Israel’s right to exist, there will be no real change.