President Obama gave a great speech in Jerusalem last week.
He promised again to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and pledged undying moral and military support for the Jewish state. Only then did he urge Israelis not to forsake efforts to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. His rhetoric was so powerful that it elicited repeated cheers from about 1,000 Israeli students in the audience.
So, now what?
One can’t help but recall that Obama also gave a great speech to students in Cairo in 2009, aimed at winning Muslim hearts and minds. That speech is best remembered for failing to produce anything concrete. Can we hope for something more substantial to result from the president’s wooing of Israeli Jews?
The answer depends on how one reads Obama’s visit. If you expect concrete results from his impassioned call for peace with the Palestinians, the speech is likely to be a letdown. But if you look elsewhere for results, you could call it a success.
No question, Obama’s prime goal was to reverse the mistaken belief among Israelis that he is hostile to their country. Given his powerful endorsement of Zionism and American ties with Israel, he probably succeeded, even with the Israeli right wing.
Winning rave public notices helped advance Obama’s second goal: improving relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A better level of trust between the men is crucial to persuading Bibi to allow more time for “tough” U.S. diplomacy with Iran rather than launching a premature Israeli attack on Tehran’s nuclear program. Here, too, there were clear signs of success.
Ditto for Obama’s efforts to get both sides on the same page in dealing with the violence in Syria. Toward that end, Obama scored a diplomatic triumph by brokering an apology from Netanyahu for Israeli forces’ 2010 killing of nine Turks on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara. The killings froze relations between Israel and Turkey, and a thaw is crucial to devising a regional strategy for dealing with the Syrian regime.
But when it comes to reviving peace talks, Obama’s fine words are likely to produce minimal results. There are clear signs that he recognizes this.
One sign is that he chose to give the speech to Israeli students rather than the Knesset. No doubt Obama recognized that his appeal for progress on negotiations with the Palestinians would be met with hostility, if not boos, from many members of Israel’s right wing.
The president admitted that the chaotic situation in the Arab world provides a dicey backdrop for peace talks. He also knows that the Palestinian leadership is weak and divided, and that Netanyahu’s new coalition government is largely hostile to the idea of two states.
Some key Israeli ministers are strong advocates of increased Jewish settlement on the West Bank — or even its annexation — and have said they will pursue even more construction than in the past. Recognizing this reality, Obama dropped his insistence on a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, which makes it hard for the Palestinians to sign on.
Given these realities, the president’s plea for renewed talks, while moving and trenchant, was almost wistful. In appealing to the next generation — the students — he quoted the hawkish former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state (and) at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel” — that is, historic Israel, which includes the Palestinian West Bank.
He urged these young people — and through them the wider public — to consider the world through the eyes of ordinary Palestinians. While insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he stressed that continued Jewish settlement on the West Bank makes it impossible to have a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
But his effort to generate public pressure on Israeli leaders to engage in talks is likely to go nowhere. When it comes to Mideast peace, it has been leaders — Israeli and Palestinian, in the case of the Oslo talks; Israeli, Egyptian, and American in the Egypt peace talks — who led the way, encouraging their publics to follow. And the people-to-people contacts between Palestinians and Israelis that once assisted the process have virtually ended.
True, Obama has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to try to renew the peace process. He also suggested that his own 2011 proposal to focus first on borders and security be the basis for talks. But negotiating borders implies the need to remove Jewish settlements scattered beyond those borders — a concept that’s anathema to key members of Bibi’s governing coalition.
So consider Obama’s speech moving, inspiring, and correct in its arguments that an end to serious peace negotiations is dangerous to Israel. And consider him correct in arguing that continued Jewish settlement will eventually rule out even the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
Yet by appealing to public opinion rather than to Israeli politicians, Obama indicated that he knows there is scant chance for serious negotiations — and is unlikely to pressure the two parties. That gives his eloquent rhetoric a pro forma quality, as if it is merely a cover for the real focus of his trip: Syria, Iran and a reset of relations with Israelis. Most likely, this speech will be recalled, like the one in Cairo, as another missed chance for positive change.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President Obama gave a great speech in Jerusalem last week.
HEY HINK: Government advice goes against centuries of examples
Of all the harebrained advice I’ve heard doled out over the years this has to be the dumbest: Sign on the dotted line and “don’t worry about the price tag.” This is precisely the message our federal government is belching out to America’s young people to persuade them to sign up for Obamacare. It reminds me of the Three Stooges episode where Moe tells Curly not to worry about the explosion because “dynamite always blows down.” The image of a grasping federal bureaucracy enticing young Americans to sign onto the most aggressive power grab in this country’s history while murmuring “don’t worry about the price tag,” is almost too far-fetched to believe. Unfortunately, it’s all too true.
Good Samaritans aid motorists during storm
Thursday afternoon, a mixture of sleet and snow fell on Edmond, creating slick and hazardous streets in parts of the city.
An example of legalized corruption
Almost one year ago, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, asked me to assist him in bringing an end to what appeared to be a practice of legalized corruption. Having worked with Jolley on numerous modernization and efficiency measures, I have learned to pay close attention to his concerns. He frequently proposes cost-saving and efficiency reforms, and his proposals are taken seriously by the Legislature. Jolley had received reports from whistleblowers who exposed extremely disturbing abuses and he wanted to work on legislation to stop the practice.
LETTER: Student urges leaders to not wait on entitlement reform
To the Editor:
I am 28 years old and will only be just older than 40 by the time Medicare and Social Security programs are projected to fail. This is very concerning for young people like myself who are paying into this system and likely will not see any benefits from it. I 100 percent agree that some serious reform is needed to strengthen these programs. I think it is also important for lawmakers to help create laws that protect the privately insured from insurance companies dropping or disqualifying people from coverage. I believe this would help to keep many who can afford private health care from having to rely on Medicare and Social Security funds.
Grandparents of disabled child ‘now have hope’
An Oklahoma scholarship program for special-needs children is once again under attack.
“A motley crew of plaintiffs has filed a lawsuit asking the Oklahoma courts to toss out the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for students with disabilities,” writes Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos. “This renewed attempt to sever a lifeline for a small group of disabled students is vindictive because these plaintiffs know that these children suffered horribly in public schools. The program enables these children to escape an environment of bullying, ineffective instruction, and profound neglect and find specialized schools where they can blossom and reveal the beauty of their true nature.”
LETTER: Volunteers make Thanksgiving dinner successful
To the Editor:
How do you thank 711 people for helping you? On Thanksgiving Day my belief in the goodness of man and that Edmond has the most giving citizens was reinforced.
Starting on the Saturday before that day, I met the first ones as they worked diligently to clean equipment in preparation for cooking the Edmond Community Thanksgiving Dinner. More people came to three sites on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to cook and carve.
Employer mandate delayed, but Obamacare destruction goes on
Some 60 percent of Americans — nearly 160 million people — get insurance through their jobs. Thanks to Obamacare, that number is about to nosedive. The president’s signature law is hiking the cost of health insurance for American businesses of all sizes. They’re responding by dumping coverage for workers, spouses and retirees.
Even though the employer mandate, which requires all firms with 50 or more full-time staffers to provide health coverage or pay a fine, has been delayed by one year, the employer health insurance market is slowly bleeding out.
Freedom is more likely to stimulate potential geniuses than gifted programs
If high IQ scores are not reliable indicators of genius, what are? Advocates of gifted children hope schools can be designed to turn intellectual promise into world-changing creativity.
Frederick eyes its future renovation
Terence Malik is an American filmmaker who spent part of his youth in Bartlesville. He is perhaps best known for the critically acclaimed 1978 movie “Days of Heaven” that is set in the Texas Panhandle before the First World War during the harvest season. The late film critic Roger Ebert described “Days of Heaven” as “one of the most beautifully photographed films ever made” and praised Malik for evoking “the loneliness and beauty of the limitless Texas Prairie” Ebert wrote of how the characters in the film appeared to be on a land “to large for its inhabitants” and that they seemed to struggle with the “weight of the land.” And a visitor to Frederick, in Southwestern Oklahoma, where the land has a topography comparable to the Texas prairie, encounters visual images that are similar to the ones contained in Malik’s movie.
OKLAHOMA NOW: Celebrating an inspiring year in Oklahoma
Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas is on its way. This is a great time of year to reflect on all of God’s blessings and to be thankful for what we have.
Like many Oklahomans, I am thankful for my faith, my wonderful family, and my friends. I am also thankful for the opportunity to be your governor.
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