Beinart thinks Obama’s speech today was “a great, even profound, speech”:
It was a great speech because Obama rejected the Jewish right’s endless rhetoric about Israel having “no partner.” He defended Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, and told Israelis what their own security officials know: that Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, at political risk to themselves, have in recent years helped save countless Israeli lives. It was a great speech because Obama asked Israelis to “look at the world” through the eyes of a Palestinian child who sees her parents controlled and humiliated by a foreign army. Contrast that to Benjamin Netanyahu, who when referring to the Palestinians’ “plight” and how much “they have suffered,” in his 2000 book, A Durable Peace, put those phrases in quotation marks, as if to suggest that real Palestinian suffering does not exist.
Yossi Klein Halevi calls it perhaps ” the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president”:
Of course, his embrace had an explicit message for Israelis: Don’t give up on the dream of peace and don’t forget that the Palestinians deserve a state just as you do. But as the repeated ovations from the politically and culturally diverse audience revealed, these are messages that Israelis can hear when couched in affection and solidarity. After four years of missed signals, Obama finally realized that Israelis respond far more to love than to pressure.
Elliott Abrams remains convinced that Israel has no partner for peace:
Obama was most persuasive when discussing American-Israeli bonds, and least persuasive in his descriptions of the Arab Middle East. In his remarks today he pictured an Arab world, and a Palestinian political system, yearning for peace with Israel through negotiated compromises. This ignores the vast ocean of anti-Semitism in the Arab world, and the inculcation of hatred of Jews and Israel in generation after generation of Arabs—including Palestinians. And it ignores the rising tide of Islamism in the region, which threatens to engulf all those political figures who would really like a compromise peace. The Arab world Obama described is a place far more desirous of, and far closer to, peace with Israel than the one Israelis actually see around them.
Goldblog was at the scene:
I spoke to several members of the audience, who confirmed my impression that Israelis just wanted to know that he liked them. It’s hard to understand this from the U.S., but the idea really did take hold here that Obama genuinely hated Israel. So this whole trip is a bit of a revelation for ordinary Israelis. On the other hand, I’ve run into people who were surprised President Obama took it too strong to Bibi (one conservative-leaning Israeli I just ran into suggested that Obama was interfering in Israeli politics as payback for Netanyahu’s alleged meddling in the American election).
Here is the progression of his speech. Having demonstrated empathy for Israel, Obama then asked Israelis to feel empathy for Palestinians. Of course there is only so much Obama can do. He can’t make Netanyahu negotiate peace, nor can he make Palestinians accept one. But as much as he could do with a speech, Obama did today. He probably wishes he gave it a long time ago.