At the U.N., Comparing Obama and Bush.

Obama's entire address to the United Nations this morning is worth a read, but I just want to highlight this section on Israel/Palestine:

We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. The time has come to re-launch negotiations – without preconditions – that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians; borders, refugees and Jerusalem. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security – a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.

Note the choice of language: not just "a state" for Palestinians, but one that is "viable," "independent," and "contiguous" -- code words for an end to Israeli army checkpoints in the Palestinian territories. Obama also repeats, unequivocally, his call for an end to Israeli settlement activity. And in a recognition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence that Palestinians agree to recognize the Jewishness of Israel -- an implicit understanding that past Israeli governments did not bring up at the negotiating table -- Obama references "a Jewish State of Israel."

Compare this careful positioning to the vagueness of George W. Bush's statements on Israeli/Palestine to the UN, over the course of his two terms. In 2002:

America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Like all other people, Palestinians deserve a government that serves their interests and listens to their voices. My nation will continue to encourage all parties to step up to their responsibilities as we seek a just and comprehensive settlement to the conflict.

And in 2008, in which the word "Israel" did not even appear in Bush's speech:

We must stand united in our support of other young democracies, from the people of Lebanon struggling to maintain their hard-won independence, to the people of the Palestinian Territories, who deserve a free and peaceful state of their own.

Bush's vagueness supported the status quo. Hopefully, Obama's willingness to wrestle with the details speaks to his administration's commitment to resolving the issue.

--Dana Goldstein

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