Jeffrey Berkman's comments on President Obama's Speech in Cairo
President Obama chose Cairo , the most important Arab capital, as the location for his speech reaching out to the world's 1 billion Muslims. Seeking a new beginning based on truthful dialogue, he declared America 's commitment to peace, human rights and respect for the sovereignty of all states in the Middle East . Obama reiterated support for a two state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. He mentioned many facts, but neglected some very important truths.
Autocratic Muslim leaders may ostensibly accept Israel as an established fact, but their public actions are contradictory. Critically significant is Obama's refusal to use the word "terrorism." While the Palestinian Authority decries the use of terror attacks against Israeli civilians, their pledges to prevent such attacks have proven to be empty promises. The Palestinian Authority's rival, Hamas, regularly declares their intention to kidnap, torture, and murder Israeli soldiers and "rain missiles" on Israeli civilians. These acts are both openly and covertly supported by many Arab nations. The President missed an opportunity to specifically renounce terror against civilians in a forum where too many consider such acts as “legitimate tools of resistance”.
Obama emphasized that the parties must reaffirm and sustain all prior commitments made in prior negotiations; this must also include the United States ! His declaration against ALL growth in ALL Israeli areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem ignores the fact that not all Israeli "settlements” are the same and represents a change in US policy. Natural growth of long-existing settlement communities is as predictable as their natural birth rates. "Outposts" built without government sanction after agreements ceasing new settlements are another matter. It is worth remembering that in 1948, Israel embraced U.N. recognition of her statehood, while Palestinians rejected THEIR independent homeland, and neighboring Arab states waged war against the fledgling Israeli state. It follows that the rights of Palestinian refugees should be reciprocally linked with Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands. The role of incitement, of words and behaviors that breed mistrust, intolerance, and hatred, must also be addressed.
President Obama's unequivocal declaration of the legitimacy of the Jewish State and of the "unbreakable bonds" that unite Israel with the United States advances the cause of peace. His attempt to improve America 's standing with Arab and Muslim nations is laudable. While the President astutely stated that one speech cannot be expected to change the political equation, I believe that encouraging hope and supporting open and improved avenues of communication is a good start.