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More on this tomorrow, but my first reaction to Obama's speech from the White House on America's policy towards the Middle East was one of cautious optimism. Ignoring the usual pledges to support democracy in the region (countered by the United States lengthy historical record of doing the exact opposite), and the moral lecturing directed towards Iran/Syria/Libya etc, the President outlined a new and significant stance on the Israel/Palestinian crisis. Obama essentially told the Israelis that the only viable peace deal involves returning to the 1967 borders, not exactly a dramatic stance from an international perspective (most of the world supports that solution), but a bold step for the massively pro Israel US. Said Obama:
The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.....
while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
While the Obama Administration has done little to force Israel's hand on the occupation of Palestinian territory, the death of Osama Bin Laden gives Obama new leverage to assert himself. Netanyahu has already denounced the speech (a good sign), so Obama must be saying something right.
Actions of course, speak louder than words, but this speech gives much to build on.