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Obama, between Cairo and Jerusalem

Hisham Melhem

Published: Updated:

The first impression on American President Barack Obama's speech in Jerusalem seems pivotal or perhaps historical for its eloquence due to its essence and especially when he spoke of the importance of peace and its justice and when he requested the Israelis to put themselves in the place of the Palestinians who suffer from the occupation's humiliations or when he requested Israeli youths to bring about the required change to pressure their leaders to take risks to achieve peace or when he told the Israelis a truth that no one tells them which is "neither occupation nor deportation is the answer."

But most of the speech was tantamount to an ode (revised in Hebrew) to Israel and to the Jews' deep history in ancient Israel and its continuity in modern Israel. Obama confirmed to the Israelis in Hebrew: "You are not alone." He emphasized that American support to Israel is unconditional and steady. This support to Israel came days after the formation of a cabinet whom half of its ministers call for joining the West Bank.

Following Obama's speech, the Palestinians are in a deeper dilemma: either go back to negotiations as building settlements continue or insist on freezing settlements' building and subject themselves to American pressures and perhaps to punishing procedures implemented by the Congress

Hisham Melhem


The speech did not provide anything on the practical level. It also did not provide a roadmap that leads to peace. Obama did not address settlements, refugees, the 1967 border lines or even the future of Jerusalem which he chose as a platform to make his speech. Obama supported Netanyahu's insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state (this is a request that was not part of the negotiation's references in Madrid.) Obama did not only give up the Palestinians' requests but he also gave up his previous requests including that of freezing Israeli settling. He undermined the situation of the Palestinian authority when during his press conference with Mahmoud Abbas he said that if expectations that negotiations will be held after everything is resolved, "then there will be no need to hold negotiations."


Palestinians' settlements dilemma


Following Obama's speech, the Palestinians are in a deeper dilemma: either go back to negotiations as building settlements continue or insist on freezing settlements' building and subject themselves to American pressures and perhaps to punishing procedures implemented by the Congress. Not to mention the accusation that they said no to negotiations.

During his Jerusalem speech, Obama considered that settlements are "not fruitful." Compare this with what he said in a speech in Cairo in 2009. "The U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of the continuity of Israeli settlement." In Cairo, he said American policy will side with those who seek peace. In Jerusalem, he practically said that America will stand with Israel no matter what policy it adopts.

Obama crossed a long distance between Cairo and Jerusalem, and he learnt the wrong lessons as he crossed this distance. The most prominent of these wrong lessons is his limited power to pressure Netanyahu or himself being obliged to pay the price of his expanded policy.

In Cairo, Obama spoke of his perspective and vision to resolve the dispute. In Jerusalem, he resorted to eloquence to hide his incapability and to explain the advantages of peace to the Israelis and the Palestinians convincing himself that his eloquence is enough to push both parties to achieve peace all by themselves.

This article was published on Annahar newspaper on March 28, 2013.


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Hisham Melhem is the bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Melhem speaks regularly at college campuses, think tanks and interest groups on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, intra-Arab relations, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media , U.S. public policies and other related topics. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.