Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama Israeli Opinion Aggregator Machine

A great deal has already been said about Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday, the full text of which is here.

Rather than add to the voices I thought it would be interesting to try something never before done on this blog, aggregating. The three major Israeli newspapers the JPost, Ynet and Haaretz have published a great deal on the Israeli reaction to Obama's speech in Cairo and paper by paper, I'll try to capture the message of each, here.

Haaretz's report on the speech itself focused on the venue of the speech, its references to Israel and Palestine as well as some comments on Obama's meeting with the Egyptian president. It did not cover Obama's outline of the reform Obama says is needed in the Muslim world.

It goes on to discuss Israel's official reaction to the speech. Officially, it was a positive optimistic reaction that the speech would usher in a new era in the middle east. The opposition Kadima, however, used the speech as an opportunity to suggest that the current Israeli government was on the wrong side of US policy.

Turning from Israel, Haaretz reports on initial reaction to the speech from the wider Middle East noting Hizbollah called the speech a "sermon" while Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president was more appreciative. Iraq was also more receptive to the speech while Iran said it was basically a hollow gesture.

In his column, Gideon Levy considered the speech a favour to Israel in that it challenged right wing perspectives and was a change from Bush. One that walked a fair, balanced line and would elicit change.

Finally, Haaretz publishes this analysis, elegant in its simplicity, that Netanyahu will have to choose between those firmly on the right in his coalition, a realignment of the coalition with the opposition Kadima or a rejection of Obama's vision of Israel's middle east obligations.

The JPost article about the content of the speech itself focused on issues that concern Israelis--peace and Iran--but also went further and did touch on the other issues raised by Obama, such as the spread of democracy and women's rights.

The JPost also notes that while the Palestinian Authority and Hamas both were pleased with the speech, they doubted that Israel would heed any of it. The article also noted a mixed reaction in the rest of the Arab world.

The JPost also noted the official Israeli reaction to the speech and pointed out that Israelis were briefed on its content before it went ahead, but otherwise, the article does not provide any novel information not in Haaretz.

This analysis published in the JPost by the head of NGO Watch suggests that because Israel is, for a number of reasons, more susceptible to pressure by the US than are Arab governments, the speech was unfair. He suggests that it naively ignored the incitement and hate directed against Israel in official, academic and clerical circles which fuel the conflict in the middle east. The article argues that fundamental Arab change is needed, not just nice speeches.

Caroline Glick, a notable right-leaning columnist in the JPost suggests that it's important to realize "that the White House is deeply hostile toward Israel." She suggests that the US may be indenting to create a political crisis in Israel that would overthrow the current government. She also argues that Obama was long on rhetoric, some of it unacceptable to her, and short on ideas for how to move some of this rhetoric forward.

This article indicates that the Israeli right is deeply "shocked" that Obama drew parallels between the Holocaust and the Nakbah. It lists many of the complaints of this side of the Israeli political spectrum and also points to an interesting survey in which the largest group of respondents (less than 50%) indicated that they believe that Obama favours Arab interests over Israeli ones.

Finally from the JPost, a scorecard of what was said that was good for Israel (that the US stands firmly with Israel and rejection of holocaust denial), what was bad (linking the Holocaust and the Naqba and leniency on Iran) and what not to worry about too much (that the speech was all about appeasement.)

Ynet's article on the speech itself also focused on issues relating to Israel but also touched on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but no other aspects of Obama's speech.

Ynet reports on the Israeli reaction to the speech and in addition to official lines from the government it reports on the comments of some key players, like Labour defense minister Barak and Israel Beytanu Foreign Minister Lieberman.

The Ynet article on Muslim reaction to the speech goes beyond Palestinians and the middle east and includes Pakistani reaction to the speech. It also has a great picture of Hamas men, armed, lounging around watching the speech.

This Ynet op-ed suggests that Obama now needs to follow his meaningful words with meaningful action and that Netanyahu needs to get his act together and fall in with the US or be ripped apart by the winds of change from the US.

This Ynet op-ed replicated the elegant analysis of Netanyahu's choices in the wake of Obama's speech that appears in Haaretz. It implies that the clock has really run out for Netanyahu and he has to choose where he stands, in favour of his job, or in favour of what will most benefit his country.

This latter point is continued here in Ynet by suggesting that Netanyahu has no clear policy on moving forward and that this leave Israel in the position of a ship adrift without a captain. It is yet another call for the Israeli Prime Minister to 'just do something!'

Finally, this last column in Ynet suggests that Obama's approach is naive. It focuses on what it sees as obsticals which really are not and suggests that Obama is turning his back on much bigger problems that he should be looking at first, before he turns to Israel.

Finally, on a personal "thought" note, I want to ask and answer a rhetorical, very politically incorrect question. Obama says in his speech "...that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's." The overwhelming majority of the world, I would suppose, would agree that Palestinians have a right to a state. My question is, why? There has never been a Palestinian state in all of history. Palestinian nationalism seems only to have really risen in response to Zionism (Jewish nationalism) and prior to the creation of Israel, Palestinians did not clamour for a state of their own from any of the countries that occupied that region, be it the Turks, the British, the Syrians, the Jordanians or the Egyptians. Similarly, many may argue that Palestinians missed multiple opportunities to establish their own state. The first chance would have been alongside Israel in 1948 and most recently to have made a counteroffer rather than flatly reject the attempts at brokering peace by Clinton. Why should a people that have never had a state, and who have passed on chances to have a state, be given the right to a state?

The question is rhetorical. The answer should be fairly clear. Palestinians are and consider themselves to be a culturally distinct people from other Arabs. They are a unique people with their own aspirations and at once reject Israeli sovereignty over them and are not accepted by any other Arab country. Perhaps rightly so, as they consider themselves to be different. People in such a situation should have their state. Something like the one that was available to them in 1948 and that takes into account all the history since then.

I suppose my purpose in raising this rhetorical question is that to my mind, part of what Obama is saying to Palestinians is: if you want a state, you're entitled to one, and I'll try to get you one, but you need to first act like you deserve it. Renounce violence. Build. Govern responsibly. Act like a state, and ye shall have one.


Anonymous said...

My first reaction to your rhetorical question is this:

Why give a state to a people who haven't had a state for two thousand years?

The answer to this one should be interesting, I think. And if you are going to answer, please don't tell me "because God said so"...

My second reaction is this:

Why not give a state to every people who haven't had a state for two thousand years?

The answer to this one should be more interesting, I also think.

My third reaction to your question is:

I agree with your conclusion, and realize I "reacted" too quickly, But I ask the questions nonetheless.

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

Thanks for the comment, appreciated as always.

My first reaction to your first reaction is "oh please! God!?" No. The reason a people should have a state after two thousand years is that those people, indigenous to the land have, for those two thousand years never relinquished their claim/desire to return to it. They face it in their prayers, they speak of a wish to return to that place and, even after expulsions from the land, many of them returned to is as soon as they were given the opportunity and have maintained a continual presence there for centuries.

To your second point, I assume you mean people who once had a state and no longer do. It's a trickier answer. I suppose it would need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Who is now in their former state, how did they lose it, what type of connection do they have to the land? I realize in writing this, that the answer to some of these questions shouldn't matter. Obviously, if we were to go back and trace people's origins to certain territories and award them all the right to go back to those regions, we would have to drastically re-arrange our world. It's not feasible. Certainly, however, there must be some other cases where people who in "ancient" times had lands, should be allowed to establish nation-states in those historical territories.

I have a third reaction to your comments though: Why ask the question? The existence of a right of one person or state to do something does not necessarily preclude another person from doing something. You answered my rhetorical question with another quasi-related one.

I think the real issue is if we accept, and let's just say for argument's sake, that today states are created by the acceptance of the community of nations and the UN, and from such acceptance devolves the right to statehood, what, if anything, can extinguish that right.

I must admit that I'm not sure what the legal answer is. Off the top of my head, I would say nothing other than a newer, overruling of the previous right by the same international community. But, what about rejection of that right? What about an unwillingness to live peacefully amongst that community of nations by declaring war on neighbors? I'll answer myself again. I don't think those diminish the right, indeed, in most legal systems, one may never renounce a right (they may choose not to exercise it.)

Anonymous said...

A fourth question then:

Does Palestinian Right of Return equal Jewish Right of Return?

A friend.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

First, let me apologize for taking so long to reply.

I'm not 100% sure what your question means, but I'll respond to what I think it means.

A Jewish right to return is predicated, as I mentioned above, on thousands of years of history and Jewish connection to the land.

The Palestinian claims to a right of return are based on a connection to the land, albeit a much shorter one.

I understand your question to mean, why should Jews have this right, but not Palestinians? I can think of a few reasons that are not very compelling. For example, many Palestinians who left their homes did so voluntarily (not all, but many.) Also, in a future Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees should be "absorbed" into their own national homeland, not return to Israel.

There are weak arguments though. The answer I think is best is that the Palestinian right of return is a political issue. The Palestinians can have their own state, the Jews theirs in Israel. Deliberately moving Palestinians into a country where the reality on the ground has so significantly changed would create a demographic shift that would endanger the Jewish character of Israel and create what could be a very dangerous irredentist situation. I think in fact, that the Palestinian right of return is probably more akin to the idea of Israeli settlements than it is to the Jewish right of return.