Obama's speech: the view from Jerusalem

President Barack Obama spelled out what he expects of the Israeli government in his Cairo speech, issuing a challenge that most commentators here believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no way of meeting [I wrote on Global Post today].

Obama’s speech, carried live on all three main Israeli television stations, made clear his firm opposition to any sort of building in Israel’s West Bank settlements. “This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace,” Obama said. “It is time for these settlements to stop.”

The realization that Obama is serious about halting settlements has been growing in Israel since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in early March. At first Israeli politicians and diplomats thought it could be dealt with by the same sleight of hand that stymied previous administrations — Israel would agree to a freeze on settlement construction, except for “natural growth” to accommodate the children of existing settlers. In reality that meant as much building as Israel wanted.

Since Netanyahu’s visit to Washington two weeks ago, aggrieved Israeli government officials (who weren’t immediately available to comment on Obama's speech) have complained that there were unwritten agreements with the Bush White House allowing Israel to build in the settlements, provided they pulled out of “illegal outposts” — mainly composed of a few young settlers living in shipping containers on hillsides across the valley from existing settlements.

Obama’s speech made it clear that such unwritten promises are not part of the debate. Read more....

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Comment by Matt Rees on June 5, 2009 at 4:36pm
The thing I liked about Obama's speech was that he said both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, know -- and have known for years -- exactly what sort of agreement they could make. Neither side has had the nerve to accept that. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground makes that eventual agreement more and more difficult to realize. In the Israeli case: settlements. In the Palestinian case: civil war, and the violent division between the West Bank and Gaza. Essentially, Obama's message was: Don't be afraid of each other. Not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for people of the Muslim world and Westerners.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 5, 2009 at 5:25am
I agree. It has been very disturbing to see that Israel has taken U.S. money and U.S. arms for decades and used them against Palestinians, while absolutely ignoring American efforts to make peace in the Middle East. And why am I not surprised to hear that there were "unwritten" agreements about continued settlements between Israel and the Bush administration?
Comment by B.R.Stateham on June 5, 2009 at 2:35am
This has to be done. And although I am all for Israel defending itself and demanding recognition as a permanent State, nevertheless this insidious growth of . . . basically . . . Israeli colonies into new territory must come to a screeching halt. And I think we should be absolutely adamant about it.

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