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Five positive points in Obama’s Jerusalem speech

While Obama’s speech was biased, antiquated and problematic, it did include a handful of statements, ideas and words that provide even the slightest bit of hope.

By Moriel Rothman

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at their joint press conference in Jerusalem (photo: Koby Gidon / Government Press Office)

So. Huh. President Barack Obama just finished his speech here in Jerusalem, a few blocks away from where I am sitting. I want to get some thoughts out, initial reactions before I delve into others’ analyses, interpretations, et cetera. The speech was, as we all knew that it would be, filled with strategic gloop designed to make Israelis feel good. Most of it was vague, theoretical, and not substantially or symbolically different than the massive Israeli and American flags pasted all over the stage (and the city). Fine. It’s a strategy, and from my initial read of the media and conversations overheard on the street, a strategy that seems to be working: Israelis are feeling good about this trip and about Obama. There were two points that I noticed in which the gloop did get specific enough to be harmful (and I imagine I missed a few more like this- again, this is a First Reaction piece): (1) he reiterated and defended US veto of all Palestinian initiatives in the UN. To be expected, but still not good. (2) This might be the low point: He explicitly called for Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. Even though the US has articulated similar positions in the past, that rearticulation did not need to happen today, and it is a dangerous pre-condition and just a bad thing in many other ways (I’ll explain that more in another post). I thought that he’d actually brilliantly skirted this one when he asserted earlier in the speech that Israel had the right to demand that Hamas renounce violence and recognize its right to exist. Not its right to exist as a Jewish State. So, I’m not sure about this point.


I have say that I was very surprised, positively, by the speech. I knew it was going to be filled with gloop. I did not know that it would include a handful of statements, ideas and words that would give me tiny, teensy glimmers of, well, hope?

Those statements, ideas and words, in list form:

(1) He said the words “Independent Palestine” twice. 

(2) He called the IDF a “Foreign Army” in terms of its actions in Palestine. 

(3) He condemned settler violence and the failure to punish it. He also spoke out against destruction of farmers’ land, restriction of students’ movement and the eviction of families.

(4) He gave credit to and noted the many young Palestinians who have rejected violence. 

(5) And he said the words (a) “Occupation” (which was a pleasant surprise and made it such that he passed my Haiku Test) and (b) “Expulsion” (which was actually sort of a shock).

So, while the speech was of course biased, antiquated, problematic, gloop-filled, and everything else that my radical colleagues predicted it would be and will analyze it as having been, these five points are worth considering. And worth emphasizing and repeating, because we have the opportuntiy, right now, to construct the meaning of this speech, as much as any political pundits or newscasters do. So: The President of the United States said that “Neither Occupation nor Expulsion is the answer.” Neither Occupation nor Expulsion is the answer.

Neither Occupation nor Expulsion is the answer.

Moriel Rothman is an American-Israeli writer and activist. He is based in Jerusalem and blogs independently at www.TheLefternWall.com.

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    1. aristeides

      So many people determined to boost their self-delusion to find hope in Obama’s words, which have been lies from the git-go.

      Reply to Comment
      • TobyR

        Agreed. Clutching at straws to draw something from Obama’s vapid motherhood statements and shameless pandering to his audience.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Giora Me'ir

      Whether there were positives in his speech is irrelevant. What matters is action, not rhetoric.

      Reply to Comment
    3. American

      “He condemned settler violence and the failure to punish it.”

      I’ll tell you that the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t know what that means. Yet, that is your most powerful weapon in changing public opinion here: a ten year old Palestinian girl hit in the face with a rock thrown by a settler.

      No U.S. president can just decide to defy AIPAC, unless he wanted his legacy to be turmoil and very low poll numbers,

      Reply to Comment
      • “that is your most powerful weapon in changing public opinion here: a ten year old Palestinian girl hit in the face with a rock thrown by a settler.” : Which is why outlets like 972 are important.

        Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      I see today that Netanyahu, apparently on the urging of Obama, finally apologized to Turkey for the killings on the flotilla ship.

      Where was the apology to the US for the murder of a US citizen on that same ship? Did O even bother to mention it?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Susan

      Obama was talking to the average Israeli who wants peace, but is skeptical that peace is possible. He was not talking to radical leftists. Israelis need reassurance that the US is on their side in order to feel safe making compramises.

      Reply to Comment
      • Palestinian

        Compromises ? Like returning stolen land or giving up occupation and dominance ? No more Palestinian punching bags ….OMG the Palestinians (aka Aghavim) will have rights ,now thats a huge “compromise” kochanie or shall I say dorogaya ?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Roberto K

      Speech sounded to me as if Lyndon Johnson had gone down to Alabama at the height of the civil rights movement to reassure supporters of Jim Crow laws that the southern states will continue to be White (with a capital W). Obama has proven once again to be to the right of the carpet bomber of Vietnam, and even his successor Nixon, which is no surprise. U.S. administrations and legislatures have been moving inexorably rightward since then.

      Reply to Comment
    7. The US lives in containment land. Obama went to Israel primarily to strengthen allliance against Syrian spillover. So, today, he pushed Turkey and Israel back into formal relations. He has promised Jordan more money for refugees. He probably reiterated promises to Israel on the funding of Iron Dome.

      The US made no moves against South Africa until the USSR collapsed. It was defined as a strategically necessary ally in those days. After the collapse, Congress sanctioned apartheid. Given Syria and Iran, containment America is not going to place the occupation or siege up front (even absent the significant Jewish American presence). What you got in Obama’s speech is an indication that he sees the realities in the Bank. “Expulsion” is not a word Republicans would use. He is saying that the realities are there, but that he cannot act on them given Israel’s strategic importance. He is saying, implicitly, that things will have to get worse therein before real movement is possible. Do I like this? No. Do I understand why he did it? Yes. The reality is that Bank residents are going to have to continue to endure, protesting in directly ineffective ways. And I have no answer to what that must feel like.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        What the Palestinians got from Obama was more money to prop up the quisling occupation.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Witty

      The great message was “accept each other”.

      Those that argue for rejection of Israel or of Palestine, or of Israelis or of Palestinians are not pursuing change, but more of the same.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Neither expulsion nor occupation is the answer. Love is the answer – as told by
      the prophet John Lennon. This puts me in the company of naive idealists who have no real political power but the freedom of the individual who does not align with we – us – them. Given the choice between being right and being happy what would you choose. La la land is a better option then either Israel or Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Noevil9

      Obama has spoken, but not his own words. Unfortunately for us optimists, from both sides, Obama does not decide for foreign policy, specifically what has to do with Israel. AIPAC, and Jewish American control of politicians by money,is what determined ,how much we can say, or print about what should be good for the Israelis and wish to be called; “jewish State”. Till American Jewry is informed and find it in themselves to speak out for justice and fairness, by not letting their Jewishness bury their heads in the sand, there will be little change. I like your points, and they are well taken,but the sourness of the past history and policies of the US, does not leave much to be positive about. Saying that, I hope you are right , that there is a shift ,that will take place for a real resolution to this land theft , and his speech not just another bandge for the Palestinians for their continues wound of 65 years.

      Reply to Comment