Obama struggles to equate Israel with ‘Palestine’

By Vic Rosenthal

There’s a lot to talk about in President Obama’s long-awaited Cairo speech (the text is here). I’ll stick to the part about Israel and the Palestinians. Start with this:

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust…

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. 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.

The implied equivalence — even the mere comparison — is obscene. Nobody shot and gassed six million Palestinians to death, and European Jews did not start and lose a war against Germany. The fact that the head of the dominant Palestinian clan at the time (and the closest thing to a national leader they had), Haj Amin al-Husseini, was a friend and admirer of Hitler adds to the irony. What was Obama thinking?

Note also the discussion of “sixty years…occupation”. Of course Obama would say that he meant the occupation since 1967…wouldn’t he?

Apparently the theme of the speech is making equivalences. Here’s another:

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

I suppose there’s no hope of getting beyond false symmetries. Politics is the art of saying “both sides, blah, blah”, someone said. But let’s look at these aspirations:

  • Israel aspires to live in peace in the Middle East as a Jewish state. Its history of readiness for compromise shows that borders are less important than peace and security.
  • Palestinians aspire to rule “from the river to the sea”. A Jewish state of any size in this area is unacceptable to them.

Again there is no comparison. Israel does not deny the principle of Palestinian self-determination (insofar as it can be realized without destroying Israel). But the Palestinians even deny that there is a Jewish people.

This explains why negotiations to produce a two-state solution have so far failed: Palestinians have always demanded conditions that would not allow Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

On the subject of Iranian nuclear ambitions, he said,

…any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

A hint that he would like to see Israel, too, sign the treaty and give up her nuclear deterrent? Again we see the false equivalence: as if there is any comparison between Israel’s maintaining a true deterrent force in the face of regional hostility, and Iran’s intention to create a nuclear shield for its proxies!

Here’s a final juxtaposition:

To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

So Hamas refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist, and demonstrates that with suicide bombers and Qassam rockets. “At the same time,” Israel ‘denies Palestine’s right to exist’ by …building homes within existing settlements! And some of these ‘settlements’ are better described as neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

This is expressed in a somewhat unfortunate way. Read literally — as the Arabs will do — this implies that any Jewish presence in the area of the 19-year Jordanian occupation is illegitimate and must ‘stop’.

But even if we understand it to refer to construction, then an addition to an existing building inside an East Jerusalem neighborhood is not distinguished from establishing a hilltop outpost in Samaria. Both must stop, according to the President.

As an aside, this is absurd. Jews lived in East Jerusalem until they were killed or expelled by the Jordanians in 1948, as part of a war of aggression and conquest waged by Jordan. After Israel retook the territory in the defensive 1967 war, Jews moved back. Now they are “illegitimate?”

Throughout, Obama struggles to equate Israel with ‘Palestine’, so he can justify taking from one to give to the other. Of course, ‘Palestine’ will never be satisfied until there is nothing left of Israel — but apparently he is unable to see this.

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4 Responses to “Obama struggles to equate Israel with ‘Palestine’”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I don’t disagree with the analysis presented here. There is false symmetry and an incorrect reading of History in Obama’s analysis of the Palestinian Arab story.
    But in considering Obama’s speech as a whole I think it is necessary to commend him on a number of very significant points. He did speak about the ‘unbreakable bond’ between the United States and Israel. This in effect was his way of discouraging those who believe that the path to Israel’s destruction is by first disconnecting it from the U.S. He did call for the Islamic world as a whole to recognize and live in peace with Israel. He did speak out against the evil of Holocaust- denial and indicate that it is a moral blight on the Islamic world itself. He did also present ideas about democracy, freedom , woman’s rights which were a kind of moral message to the Islamic world.
    I write this in part because I am troubled at the thought that a ‘demonizing’ of the President on the part of pro-Israel people is exactly what our enemies want. I believe we must have a balanced, reason, accurate approach. In this sense I very much appreciate the rational and correct criticisms of Obama’s speech made by Vic Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, P.David Hornik, Barry Rubin, among others. But I object strongly to those kinds of criticisms which put him in a keffiyah call him Arafat, make him the enemy of Israel and the Jewish people. Such criticisms are wrong and potentially disastrous for us.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    Yes, the Keffiyah picture isn’t helpful. Recently I saw a video of Nadia Matar talking about him. Her approach, pronouncing his name Barack HUSSEIN Obama in a sneering tone was also not helpful.
    However I am not too hopeful about his approach. There is definitely a change in policy since the last administration (which was not so great itself after 2006), and the change is not in the pro-Israel direction.

  3. ittay says:

    You claim that Israel will never be able to help the Palestinians achieve their national aspirations because they “aspire to rule from the river to the sea” and “Jewish state of any size in this area is unacceptable to them.” This is simply not the case. It reminds me of Palestinian propagandists who say the Likud believes that Israel’s borders should include shtei gadot (both sides of the Jordan).

    If you would like to understand things clearer, please read this article from last week’s Haaretz, where the Chief Palestinian Negotiator explains exactly what would be required for the Palestinians to fulfil their national aspirations.

    It’s very similar to what Obama was calling for. It would require Israel making very painful concessions, in the hope that the Palestinians would respond by calling for an end to all attacks on Israel. Agreeing to the Palestinians demands would be a big risk. However, I believe maintaining the status quo indefinitely, is even riskier.

  4. Vic Rosenthal says:

    Ittay, it is far worse than what Obama is calling for: total withdrawal to pre-67 lines, no recognition of the Jewish state, and a right of return — to Israel. Look at this http://fresnozionism.org/archives/1239 for a discussion of recognition, and this http://fresnozionism.org/archives/1240 for what I think about the principle of right of return, even if not realized.
    Abbas has insisted on “not one centimeter less” than the pre-67 territory; consider that Jews lived in East Jerusalem (etc.) prior to 1948 when they were shot and kicked out by the Jordanians who invaded and occupied the region. Now the Arabs refuse to compromise on ‘settlements’ that are actually neighborhoods?
    I think that Qureia, Abbas, Erekat etc. are not serious about peace or they would have moved a bit in their positions since 1967!
    Finally, how can you say it’s worth taking the risk of withdrawing from the West Bank when Hamas is likely to take over? How did withdrawal from Gaza work out?