What Obama's Speech Really Meant for Israel-Palestine

After the failed three-party summit, Obama's speech before the UN General Assembly took a tougher line

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In President Obama's much-discussed speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he condemned Israel's settlements on the West Bank. "We continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," he said. Obama's sharp, unequivocal language, which laid out firm White House positions, was a departure from the softer U.S.-Israel-Palestine talks held earlier that day, which were largely dubbed a flop. Even if Obama failed at progressing the Israel-Palestine peace process at the White House summit, some pundits think his speech took a clear step forward.

  • Hard Line on Israeli Settlements  M.J. Rosenberg of Talking Points Memo lauded Obama's hard line on Israeli settlement. "Anyone who thought that President Obama was backing away from his commitment to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by moving away from the emphasis on a settlement freeze has already been proven wrong," he wrote. "This may be one of the strongest Presidential pronouncements on the need to implement the two-state solution and end the occupation. Presidents traditionally avoid references to the "occupation" and to "Jerusalem" as a final status issue that must be confronted."
  • Asserts Leadership on Israel-Palestine  Marc Lynch praised Obama's position as "tough, even-handed, and clear." Obama, Lynch said, demonstrated that he is "more committed than ever to doing exactly what he said he would do and who is more -- not less -- inclined to demonstrate his determination to play the role of even-handed broker." Lynch dismissed those who said Obama's Israel-Palestine talks had been a failure. "Lord knows I'm not optimistic about final status negotiations--I'm never especially optimistic--but in this instance I think a lot of people are being blinded by shiny flashing lights and missing what's really going on."
  • Finally Acknowledged Israel's Jewishness  Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out Obama's firm declaration that Israel is a "Jewish state," a significant departure. "What was news was Obama's clear description of Israel as a 'Jewish state,'" Goldberg wrote. "He's laying down a marker that Israel's enemies don't like at all. Even Avigdor Lieberman liked the line." Goldberg also noted that Bush, like Obama, had called the West Bank settlements an "occupation."
  • Mistake to Engage Palestine  Jennifer Rubin warned that Obama may promote the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause. "By elevating the issue of settlements, Obama only played into the Palestinians' natural inclination toward rejectionism and obstructionism," she wrote. "But let’s be candid: the Palestinians are in no position to make a deal—or discuss a deal. What promise could they give about terrorism? What offer of recognition would they be empowered to make?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.