Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama's Cairo 2 Speech vs. Bibi's Tweets

Endearing himself even further to Middle Easterners, President Barack Obama showed up on Middle Eastern time (read: about a half hour late) to deliver his "reset speech" for what some are calling his "Cairo 2" address, hearkening back to his famous lecture to the Muslim/Middle East world delivered in Cairo in 2009. Stripped of all its rhetorical flourishes, the speech had three main points:

1. "It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."
Praise for Tunisia and Egypt; attack Qadhdhafi in Libya; threaten the Assad regime in Syria ("President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way"); and finally cajole Yemen and Bahrain to do the right thing. Not a word said about the liberal monarchy of Jordan, and the repressive monarchy of Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to Bahrain to help kill protesters. Selective, to say the least.

2. "We must support positive change in the region...through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy."
A billion here and a billion there to Egypt, once it democratizes. Nice carrot.

3. The pursuit of peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict
No simple one-sentence quote for this sticky wicket. But basically Obama adhered to the principles of American peace processing for the last 20 years: 2 states ("a secure Israel and a viable Palestine") with fixed borders based on the 1967 lines and limited land swaps to compensate for adjustments. Deal with borders and security first, and put off the thornier problems of Jerusalem and refugees until later. Only one oblique mention of settlements, and a question posed to Hamas: are you prepared to recognize the existence of Israel? Basically, Obama reiterated the wearying approach of veteran peace processor Dennis Ross. In other words: nothing new.

Within minutes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was tweeting, first in Hebrew and then in English, an angry response to Cairo 2. Amazing - international diplomacy by way of Twitter. Let me string together the infantile 140-character at-a-time Bibi tweets designed to respond to a 1-hour presidential address:

Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. / Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state… / cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state. / That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, / which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. / Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines / which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. / Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state / by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel. / Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace. / Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, / and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel. / Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River. / Prime Minister Netanyahu will also express his disappointment over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas.. / a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as over Abbas’s recently expressed views which grossly distort history / and make clear that Abbas seeks a Palestinian state in order to continue the conflict with Israel rather than end it.

If we are to believe this tweeting frenzy, Bibi wants to roll back the clock to April 2004 and invoke a tendentious interpretation of a letter issued by President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in which Bush said it was unrealistic to expect Israel to fully withdraw to the 1967 lines and that resettling Palestinian refugees in Israel was not viable. Bibi also wants to insist on this newly trumped-up demand that Palestine not only recognize Israel, but recognize it as a Jewish state (something not asked of Egypt or Jordan or even of Yasser Arafat way back when). Bibi then throws up a newly-resurrected demand (abandoned by a different Israeli government back in 2001) that Israel requires a military trip-wire presence along the Jordan River. Oh, and Hamas is a terrorist organization, lest anyone forget.

A few hours after this Twitter frenzy, Bibi boarded a plane pointed towards Washington DC. Bibi will reiterate all these talking points at the weekend AIPAC conference and then again on Tuesday in the Capitol building, all to great applause. It's pretty certain this time there won't be any heckling of Bibi.

It looks like the Israeli PM (Twitter followers: 5,776) and the American Prez (Twitter followers: 8,100,112) are going to have a great weekend together. Game on!

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