Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Obama's speech in Turkey

I don't know if this counts as the major speech in a Muslim capital or if there will be a new one open to the public. When I heard the idea, I thought of a speech comparable to that given in Germany when Barack was a candidate, with hundreds of thousands in the audience watching from a public square. This speech before Turkey's Parliament does meet the requirements, and was itself a step forward in US communications with the Muslim world.
It was a wide-ranging speech. Delivered more to Turkey than to the Muslim world at large, but there was a message in the speech for the Muslim world as a whole. Juan Cole's thoughts here. My attention was caught by his discussion of the Israel/Palestine dispute.
In the Middle East, we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of goodwill around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as President of the United States.
We know the road ahead will be difficult. Both Israelis and Palestinians must take steps that are necessary to build confidence and trust. Both Israelis and Palestinians, both must live up to the commitments they have made. Both must overcome longstanding passions and the politics of the moment to make progress towards a secure and lasting peace.
The United States and Turkey can help the Palestinians and Israelis make this journey. Like the United States, Turkey has been a friend and partner in Israel's quest for security. And like the United States, you seek a future of opportunity and statehood for the Palestinians. So now, working together, we must not give into pessimism and mistrust. We must pursue every opportunity for progress, as you've done by supporting negotiations between Syria and Israel. We must extend a hand to those Palestinians who are in need, while helping them strengthen their own institutions. We must reject the use of terror, and recognize that Israel's security concerns are legitimate.

Noting two things he said:
"The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." To say the United States supports there at least being a Jewish state is a severe understatement. The United States is committing a huge amount of resources, an amount difficult to calculate, into its project of ensuring Jewish demographic dominance, as an ethnic group, of Israel. US support for two states is much less intense. The US supports two states, or at least negotiations to that end that can continue indefinitely as a means to the end of making palatable an otherwise acceptable status quo. Meaning, for example, the starvation of Palestinians in Gaza, from Israel's point of view is necessary to protect Israel's long-term Jewish identity. That is not an acceptable reason to starve Palestinians according to US values, so the US accomodates their starvation in support of its goal of two states.
The two-state negotiating process is, as it has always been, a kind of fiction necessary to make otherwise unacceptable pro-Israel policies align with principles or values that are acceptable by US and Western standards. Obama announces here that he is continuing this fiction which is far from surprising given the boundaries within which Obama must work.
"Palestinians, Israelis, and people of goodwill around the world" a curiously meaningless phrase. The Palestinians who go along with the Israeli/US negotiation arrangements have very poor democratic credentials. I guess that should always be said when a statement like this is made, but it is so widely known that the hypocrisy of using Abbas to speak for Palestinians doesn't deserve much more discussion. Recent polls show substantial, probably majority support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. The US policy is effectively to starve the Palestinians until they change their opinion. More interesting to me is "people of goodwill". Obama isn't saying that everyone who supports two states is a person of goodwill. He isn't saying that everyone who opposes two states is not a person of goodwill. He isn't saying anything but he's saying nothing in a way that puts his position in a positive light. Curiously meaningless.


Overall the speech was vague enough that it gives a sense of the US position on the Israel/Palestine conflict without being offensive to a region of people who see the dispute drastically differently from the US. That was the needle Obama had to thread. Obama did all he could possibly do without drastically changing the US approach to the dispute.

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