In a speech to the State Department on Thursday, President Obama laid out a long-awaited articulation of the United States’ stance on the Arab Spring and the countries involved – his remarks have already sent ripples throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine – each nation was addressed during the speech that reconciled America’s values with its strategic interest in the region.
Indeed, the president’s speech was intended to tie values and interests as one; he said during the speech that security and prosperity in the region were directly linked to the ongoing surge in democratic fervor of the Arab Spring.
What was promising about Obama’s speech emphasized the relationship between a peaceful region and greater economic prosperity and trade between the Mid-East and the West:
“We’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year.”
Shared economic interest is a great unifier; a trade relationship not tied to oil exports (which has defined the Middle East and North Africa’s relationship with the West for decades) would encourage progress in a region that struggles with prosperity.
The most explosive part of the speech came near the end, when the president took an unprecedented stance on the tensions between Israel and the Palestinian people – a conflict that has overshadowed the Middle East since the founding of the Jewish state:
“The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
Those pre-1967 borders are wildly different from the current state of Israel and it’s controlled territories (the West Bank, which includes the biblical cities of Jericho and Bethlehem; the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip).
The borders that predate the war of 1967 during which Israel seized control of the occupied territories would give the Palestinians the southern part of the country.
Currently, the recent alliance between Hamas, which Israel has called a terrorist organization, and Fatah, the ruling Palestinian political entity, is historic and signals another step towards the future recognition of a Palestinian state by the U.N.
President Obama will be the first American president to support such a strong position, with the political backing of the United Nations, the European Union and Russia (who along with the United States are the international mediators overseeing efforts to end Arab/Israeli conflict, known as “the quartet”).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was strongly opposed to President Obama’s announcement, paying first an angry phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a visit to the White House, where he rejected the pre-1967 border proposal.
It is uncertain of whether or not Arab/Israeli peace talks will remain stagnant; but in this time of great unrest, Obama has made inroads on turning the Arab Spring into a greatv opportunity for the West and the region.
Link – President Obama’s full remarks: