Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, May 2011
Reactions to Obama's Middle East Speech:
Christopher Walker: Just Rhetoric,
Eugene Michael Jones: Placating Israel Lobby
'Obama's speech on ME full of hot air'
Fri May 20, 2011 9:24AM
Interview with Christopher Walker, Middle East expert, London
US President Barack Obama's latest speech on recent developments in the Middle East and Muslim world in general is viewed with extreme skepticism as the American imperial interests remain dominant in Obama's diplomatic rhetoric.
In a Press TV interview, London-based Middle East expert Christopher Walker also expresses pessimism about any positive change in the US foreign policy. The Following is a rush transcript of the interview.
Press TV: This is the first speech officially by the US president since his speech in Cairo, which the president said was 'a new beginning' back then (2009). What accomplishments have the US made since that time? What was new in this latest Obama speech?
Walker: Well, that speech in 2009 raised lots of expectations and frankly a lot of them haven't been realized, although the Americans are claiming general credit for him leading the idea of an Arab spring i.e. the people gathering against the dictators.
I'm afraid the same might happen with this speech because in the West the piece that's most notable is the fact that for the first time he's come out and said that a future Palestinian state must stick to the 1967 boundaries, but the trouble is the speech contains no means for that to be obtained i.e. for the removal of some 300,000 settlers who are now within those boundaries since the 67 war. And all he talks about is agreed swaps, but that really is a very vague phrase.
So I'm afraid that if the Arab people get worked up or excited on behalf of the Palestinians; that there's been an American change of heart, there is not going to be necessarily a change of policy on the ground.
They will just have to see how tough he is with Mr. Netanyahu when they meet in Washington this Friday, but it's noticeable that both he and Mr. Netanyahu have meetings with AIPAC the lobbying organization on behalf of Jews and Israel in America. And I think once again his hands will be tied.
Press TV: I'd like to get your reaction to some comments made from others about Obama's speech - this one from Shadi Hamid, Director of research at the Brooklyn Center in Doha - “Obama said US aligns with Arab hopes, well why didn't they align for five decades?” And another one on Face Book, “Obama is blabbering about our revolutions in shallow American liberal terms makes me sick”. Is he going to be able to get bottom-up support?
Walker: No I don't think so. A survey taken just a few days ago showed 20% only approval in the Arab states amongst the young people of America. I think in a way this speech, which has been hyped a lot in advance - we've all been told hang onto your seats, here it comes Cairo mark II, it's going to change the world again - it in fact shows that America has become very much more irrelevant in the Arab world as we saw again and again during the uprisings in places like Egypt and Tunisia; it suddenly lost its importance to the young people there apart from the fact they're using American mediums like Twitter and such like to revolt.
So in a way I see this as a well written well delivered oratorical speech full of, frankly, of a lot of hot air. And although a lot of the money that he's throwing Tunisia and Egypt will be welcomed one cynical commentator noted here that only earlier this week where he threw money also at Jordan when he had a visit from King Abdullah II hasn't made any effort to go forward.
Press TV: How much has he given to Jordan? Isn't that the second time in just months that he has given these handouts to Jordan?
Walker: Yes I understood it was around about 600 million dollars this time compared with a billion that he's offering Egypt and Tunisia, but bear in mind Jordan has made absolutely no steps toward democracy. So it does look as though once again that Americas interests are predominant rather than its sort of high and might principles.
Press TV: Is the money going to buy the democracy aspirations of the people? Isn't the US kind of behind after it has seen two revolutions happen and now it says we're going to throw all this money at you? For example, with Egypt they gave a billion dollars, erasing their debt with further billions to come. And what about the other countries still going through these revolutions, is throwing money at them going to give the US what they want?
Walker: No. I don't think it's enough money, in full terms, to buy very much. Actually I see it as a gesture more allayed - if you read the speech, what Mr. Obama's is very much against is the idea that in September the Palestinians at the UN might declare a unanimous state on their own. And if that led to marches towards Israel of the type we saw during the NAKBA that could really cause trouble and he's trying to buy that off.
'Obama placates Israel lobby in US'
Fri May 20, 2011 10:10AM
Interview with Eugene Michael Jones, editor of Culture Wars Magazine, Indiana
US President Barack Obama has again restated total American backing of the Israeli regime despite the growing public anger in the Muslim world towards the US for its support of Tel Aviv.
In a televised speech intended to address recent events in the Muslim world, Obama assured its regional allies that the United States will keep its “commitment to friends and partners” as well as despotic rulers in the region.
Press TV interviewed Eugene Michael Jones, editor of Culture Wars Magazine regarding latest developments in the Arab world and negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Press TV: Obama's speech was much awaited: does his policy purpose "bold new steps" as the New York Times portrays it or was it just same old policies in new words?
Jones: I think his proposal to go back to the 1967 borders is a new initiative that no president has made up to this time and the only reason he is making it is because events in the Arab world would outstrip his policies; he was sort of left behind by the whole Arab spring uprising and now he is trying to get in front of the situation by what, I think, is a dramatic proposal.
Press TV: Obama said, "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..." The Swaps that he talks about, does that somehow endorse settlement construction on Palestinian land?
Jones: It would, if they accept that. Yes they would if they accept that, I don't know what they are getting as a swap in return for that land but that would endorse the settlements. But the swap alone is a step away from the 2003 statement that George W. Bush made with the endorsement of the Congress in which she said those new settlements were already totally under Israel control and remain under Israel control. So the swap itself is a step forward.
Press TV: But the endorsement does go against the UN mandate which has declared these settlements as illegal.
Jones: That is true so the question is whether the swap is going to remain on the table or not. But the situation has changed dramatically that is the real news here. In other words we are moving towards the declaration of a Palestinian state in the fall and if the protesters, if a million of them were to march through the Rafah border crossing and declare a state, then he would be totally left of the picture. So I think he trying to get ahead and the swap is to placate the Israelis. Maybe it l will happen maybe it wouldn't happen but Israel is clearly on the defensive which is not the way the situation was at the end of the 2010.
Press TV: Speaking of the push for Palestinian statehood, Obama said, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the UN in September won't create an independent state," With stances like that, what does this solve for the region?
Jones: He has to say that to placate the Israel lobby in the US, so if they were to cut a deal before September, yes that would eliminate the threat of this UN involvement but on the other hand, Obama holds cards that he can play against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he shows up tomorrow in Washington and say basically, “Look, either you do the deal now or we will recognize the Palestine state in September.” So he is in a much stronger position. You have to remember that Obama started out by flying to Cairo and trying to create an initiative at the beginning of his administration. The Jews were furious at him when he did that and they turned on him almost immediately but what has happened since that time is the situation has changed.
The situation is no longer what it was I said on Sunday that the Palestinians are now negotiating from some position of strength and I think that is the case. The change in Egypt's policy, the opening of the Rafah border crossing and also the unity Palestinian government has put the Israelis on the defensive. The Israelis couldn't follow suit Tsivi Livni turned Netanyahu down when he tried to create a unity government. So they are disunited and the Palestinians are united and the Arab world is standing behind the Palestinians. So all of this stuff that Obama is saying is trying to get in front of the situation but at the same time he is able to play these cards against Netanyahu. There is no love lost between these two people. You remember the Israelis deliberately embarrassed vice-President Biden when he was in Israel by announcing new settlements. Obama then hit the ceiling and Netanyahu flew over and Obama said well if you have something new, let me know then he walked out of the meeting. I think he understands what he has to do here. I think he is willing to push against this in a way no president before him has done.
Press TV: Speaking of these recent comments, you said that Obama had to placate Israeli officials. What will happen if he takes a stronger position in face of Israeli uproar instead of using your word “placating” them?
Jones: I didn't say [placating] Israeli officials, I said [placating] Israel lobby in America, these are the people that he has to placate. He has a position of strength now because he murdered Osama bin Laden and that has given him a position of power in the US that he did not have before. He was perceived as weak when he came into Middle East but now looks as if he is going to use that in a way that no president before him used that position. He doesn't have to placating Israeli officials; he has to placate the Israel lobby in the US because they determine who gets elected in the US. He is playing one faction of American Jews against the other. There is one faction that wants the settlements; there is a faction of hardliners and up to this point the hardliners have a pretty much determined policies. Now with the changed situation the moderate Jews who are associated with his administration now have the upper hand any maybe able to pull something off.
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