The White House billed President Obama’s speech yesterday as the American response to the Arab spring, and a statement of a new policy for the new Middle East. The Arab revolutions which began in Tunisia and have extended to the region’s other dictatorships—Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen—ended the popular belief among so many Washington officials and diplomats that the region’s instability revolved around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And yet, with one statement, President Obama has managed to shift conversation across the region and, indeed, across the world from liberty in Libya and the slaughter in Syria back to the past quagmire of the Palestinian-Israeli deadlock
Just as with Obama’s 2009 declarations in which the president acted more negotiating and has a zoning commissioner in Jerusalem than a peacemaker, Obama’s speech has also set back the cause of peace. With the White House casting its lot with maximalist Arab state demands over what remains essentially disputed rather than simply occupied territories, Obama has empowered the Palestinians and the more radical Arab bloc to stop negotiating and to harden their demands on other issues, such as the right of return. Certainly, if Obama was truly interested in a negotiated, lasting peace settlement, he has committed an own goal. It’s times like these when I remember the Los Angeles Times has a tape of candidate Obama at a party feting former PLO media spokesman and University of Chicago buddy Rashid Khalidi. The Los Angeles Times refused to release their tape. I certainly wonder whether it foreshadowed the positions Obama took yesterday.