Barack Obama President Barack Obama Delivers Speech On Mideast And North Africa Policy. (Rex Features via AP Images)
The Israel-Palestine issue was probably not intended to be the headline item from President Barack Obama's long-awaited speech on the Middle East yesterday, yet it is in danger of becoming so following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aggressive push-back. The section of the speech Obama devoted to Israeli-Palestinian peace adopted a position for which some advocacy groups and commentators, including in the Israeli press, have been advocating for the past year.
President Barack Obama tours the Sultan Hassan Mosque with Iman Abdel Fateh and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009. (White House/Pete Souza)
About three years ago, it looked like the United States might be emerging from its long neoconservative night to play a constructive role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Israeli-Arab conflicts. In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group, a congressionally commissioned panel of elder statesmen led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, issued a pointed rebuke of Bush administration policy in the region. The significance of their report, however, lay not in the minutiae of strategy and tactics discussed but rather in its endorsement of a long-denied truth: American efforts to stabilize Iraq would require support from allies in the region, which in turn would be decisively influenced by America's ability to seriously address the Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts.
To understand the co-existence of modern, cosmopolitan Israel with the Israel of permanent violent occupation, it's important to understand that Israel has locked itself into a box of fear. And that fear has become a danger in itself.
I don't often, or ever really, write about my own relationship to Israel or how I ended up there, but I'll make an exception for its 60th anniversary.
My relationship with Israel started at the time of the ‘good' Iraq war. You remember, the Iraq war whose ambitions were limited to ensuring continued access to Kuwaiti oil -- not the contemporary trifecta effort to own the oil, change the regime, and transform the region.
Condoleezza Rice has just completed her 14th Middle East visit in 15 months and her third since the Annapolis Conference.
The Annapolis effort is scheduled to last one year, wrapping up at the end of the Bush term, but with four months gone, the scorecard makes for predictably depressing reading. Economic conditions and freedom of movement in the West Bank have, if anything, deteriorated -- settlements are expanding, not a single outpost has been dismantled, and Israelis and Palestinians are less secure. Leaders on both sides -- Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas -- have been kept alive politically (and that admittedly was not a given), but they are still in a precariously fragile state.