Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's Mideast Speech

The buzz on this speech has already been fluctuated wildly, from "he won't say anything new" to "he's going to make an exceptionally bold and ambition statement on resolving the conflict."

I don't know which intuition is right, but the latter is obviously more fun to speculate over. So what do I want to hear?

1) Clear assertion of the right of Palestinians to a state, based on 1967 borders. There will be landswaps, and there should be landswaps, but the basic right of Palestinian statehood has to be acknowledged.

2) Clear statement that the establishment of a Palestinian state is in Israel's clear, existential interest. Palestinian statehood isn't a "favor", nor is it just idealistic posturing. It's a necessary condition to Israel's continued safety and security as a Jewish, democratic state.

3) Clear affirmation of Israel's right to defend itself and live inside secure borders. This is boilerplate at this point, but obviously remains important.

4) Clear rejection of the right of return. Rightly or wrongly, a speech that forwards points #1 and even #2 will be seized upon by rightist elements as "proof" that Obama is "anti-Israel". That's ridiculous, but it's reality. Observing that the right of return is a non-starter, and that at the end of the day not everyone is going to be able to live in the precise patch land they want to, is a good hedge against this. It's a known negotiation red-line, everyone knows that a final deal won't include it, something that is objectively hostile to final resolution of the conflict, and something that pro-Israel folks care about passionately. Compensation for refugees, yes, absolutely, but no right of return.

5) A call on both parties to hit the negotiating table. Both sides bear their share of the blame on this. The Palestinians got a 10 month settlement freeze, and spent much of that time dicking around rather than attempting to make any progress. On the other hand, that freeze was pretty anomalous for a Netanyahu administration that, by and large, is abjectly incompetent at best (with coalition members who are best described as fascistic). Whatever -- the point is that the only way things happen is if people sit down at a table and commit to banging an agreement out. Enough is enough.

How many of these points do you think Obama will hit? Fingers crossed for a good speech.

UPDATE: Four out of five, by my count. Obama specifically punted on refugees (as well as Jerusalem), but the functional replacement w/r/t my political analysis was his call for a demilitarized Palestinian state. I continue to be a little perplexed at why this is supposed to be so appealing. I want Palestine to have a monopoly of violence in its borders. The alternative isn't "no weapons in Palestine", but rather something like Hezbollah setting up shop with the actual government too weak to stop them (just like in Lebanon). But again -- whatever helps make a deal....


Christopher Meyer said...

n00b question:

When the Israelis talk about opposing the Palestinian right of return, are they just opposing the right to move to Israel proper? Or are they opposing the right to move to Gaza & the West Bank as well?

I'm assuming--and hoping--that it's just the former, which is quite reasonable. But the independent Palestinian state ought to have full control over its immigration policy.

David Schraub said...

Just the former. The typical rejoinder to a right-of-return to Israel proper is that the refugee's remedy is to live in their own state (that being Palestine).

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Christopher Meyer said...

So in the status quo, do refugees in Jordan etc. have the right to return to the occupied territories? If not, then a "right to return" in that limited sense would still be a pretty substantive gain from a peace deal.

David Schraub said...

Sure -- as far as I'm concerned that's a nice benefit (although I think that Jordan, et al should also offer the Palestinians who want to stay citizenship and equal rights, which they have thus far refrained from doing).

Rebecca said...

Jordan has given most of the Palestinians within its borders citizenship, although it has also recently stripped some of their Jordanian citizenship. Their situation in Jordan is certainly better than in Lebanon, where Palestinians can't become Lebanese citizens.