WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama came to AIPAC to smooth all the feathers ruffled by his Mideast policy speech last week. Thursday's address focused on the Arab Spring and was meant for the Arab world – it did not focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But that was not something that Obama could ignore altogether.
He chose to address the subject in a general manner, using wording Arab ears would not find discordant; but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strong reaction stole the show, stirring headlines away from the political and economical reforms the US offered Arab nation and its anti-Assad statements.
The White House's well-oiled spin machine was in full throttle over the weekend. After three tension-filled days, Obama took the stage in front of 10,000 AIPAC members.
The initially upset, suspicious crowd left the Washington conference hall happy and relaxed, after hearing Obama reaffirm the United States' commitment to Israel's security and its political interests.
AIPAC may have released a statement lauding Obama's speech, but not everyone in the caucus approved of him. Still, anyone truly listening to the tone of the Obama Administration was not surprised. What he chose to say to the pro-Israeli lobby was actually very simple: We all know what the end result is going to look like. We have been talking with the parties behind the scenes. Time to bring it to center stage.
Reaffirming Bush's ideaWhen Obama mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on the 1967 borders with land swaps, the Right both in Israel and the US was up in arms, infuriated. But to be honest, back in 2004 US President George W. Bush stood on the White House lawn, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by his side, and essentially said the same thing.
Any agreement must be negotiated between the parties themselves and the two-state solution must ensure territorial continuity between Gaza and the West Bank, Bush said.
No one lunged at Bush's throat at the time, claiming he was damning Israel's security. Obama was repeating the idea, and even said it himself: "There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous US administrations."
Since taking office, Netanyahu has been trying to get Obama to reaffirm a letter Bush gave former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in exchange for the Gaza disengagement: The letter states that any future agreement would have to consider demographic changes that occurred in the West Bank since the Six Day War.
The practical meaning is that Israel will retain large settlement blocs in exchange for creating safe passage between Gaza, the West Bank and other auxiliary territories.
Netanyahu can present this as his trip's biggest accomplishment. Still, this feat may lose some of its luster if Netanyahu does not intend to truly strive for peace. We have to wait for his Congress address to see.
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