Obama's Speech Plays Better With Palestinians

From reports this morning in Israeli news outlets, it is clear that President Obama's Cairo speech was better received by Palestinian leaders than by Israeli leaders.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saw the speech as a good start toward new policy, and a Hamas legislator offered qualified praise.  From an Associated Press story posted at The Jerusalem Post:

"The part of Obama's speech regarding the Palestinian issue is an important step under new beginnings," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"It shows there is a new and different American policy toward the Palestinian issue."

Mahmoud Ramahi, a legislator from Abbas rival Hamas, offered qualified praise for the speech.

"I have followed the speech closely. There are many positive points," he said. "There is a difference between his policy and Bush's policy. I see a change in the US foreign policy discourse.
But the problem is still on the ground. Would they achieve a Palestinian independent state? If he does that, that would be a relief and good for all parties."

Those Palestinian responses were more forthrightly optimistic than those offered by Israelis. An official response from the Israeli government did not mention the settlements issue and offered general praise for Obama's goals, but did not go as far as Abbas's spokesman in expressing specific optimism. From Haaretz:

"We share President Obama's hope that the American effort heralds the opening of a new era that will bring an end to the conflict and to general Arab recognition of Israel as the nation of the Jewish people that lives in security and peace in the Middle East," an official statement said after Obama's address in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has not endorsed a two-state solution and has said new construction will continue in Israeli settlements, generically reaffirmed Israel's commitment to peace and its own national security:

"Israel is committed to peace and will do all it can to expand the circle of peace while considering its national interests, first and foremost being security," the statement said.

Settlement leaders, meanwhile, charged that "Hussein Obama gave priority to Arab lies." From the same Haaretz article:

Settler leaders reacted with frustration in the wake of Obama's speech in Cairo on Thursday, Israel Radio reported.

"Today, the State of Israel is paying the price of its leaders' defeatism," Yesha Council said in a statement. "Hussein Obama gave priority to Arab lies, which have always been told with determination and daring, at the expense of the Jewish truth, which has been said in a weak and unconfident voice."

In his speech, Obama called America's bond with Israel "unbreakable" and went into considerable depth defending Israel's right to exist after the Holocaust--and made it clear that denial of this right is unacceptable. He then went on to acknowledge Palestinian displacement at Israel's founding, criticize Israeli settlement construction, strongly advocate Palestinians' right to statehood, call for an end to Palestinian violence, compare Palestinians' situation to that of American blacks under slavery and segregation--and suggest a similarly peaceful solution. (Read Obama's remarks on Israeli/Palestinian conflict here.)

Some news outlets in the Muslim world yesterday predicted a clash between Obama and Israel. At the top of Israel's government, tension has not boiled over into an outright clash: Obama and Netanyahu have publicly disagreed on settlements, and it's notable that Netanyahu's statement generally reaffirmed Israeli interest--but Obama pledged an unbreakable bond, and the official Israeli response approved of the speech. With the settlers, however--that's a clash.