Obama Says Democracy in Mideast is “Top Priority,” Calls for 1967 Borders for Israel

In a speech this morning at the White House, President Barack Obama sought to “push the reset button” to the U.S.’s policy in the Middle East in light of the wave of political changes that have been in the region. Comparing the pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other nations to seminal events in American history — the real Boston Tea Party, Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus — Obama stated the US faces a “historic opportunity” to support its principles of universal rights including free speech and economic and political reforms that “can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.”

The full text of Obama’s speech can be read here.

For the first time, Obama publicly called on Israelis and Palestinians to seek a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders:

“At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever.

The President discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to continue the peace process after reviewing the pro-democracy movements that have occurred throughout the Middle East and North Africa since a Tunisian vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after a police officer confiscated his cart. 

In contrast to a 2009 speech in Cairo when he “addressed himself to the Islamic world as a whole, trying to heal a rift with the United States,” Obama today described the Middle East as a complex place, where different responses to different countries may be required: The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have been followed by other regimes — Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria — taking violent and repressive measures against protesters.

In addition to saying that the US will “promote reform across the region, and … support transitions to democracy,” Obama underscored the importance of advancing “economic development for nations that transition to democracy” as “the tipping point” for many countries where “the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family.” An initial set of initiatives will seek to improve the financial standing of Tunisia and Egypt. Egypt will be given debt forgiveness of up to $1 billion and will be guaranteed another $1 billion in borrowing for financing infrastructure and job creation.

Obama again invoked American history and ideals at the end of his speech. A “rebellion against an empire” indeed heralded the birth of our nation, and a “painful civil war that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved” extended “certain inalienable rights” to all American citizens.

The President’s speech is sure to set off “several intense days of debate over American policy in the region,” says the New York Times. Obama is to meet Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House on Friday; former Sen. George Mitchell, Obama’s peace envoy, resigned from his position last week.

Some responses from the Middle East to Obama speech via Al-Jazeera:

Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Jerusalem, said: “In different parts of his speech Obama shifted from a view closer to the Israeli approach to negotiations and at other times closer to the Palestinian approach.

…”Obama more importantly talked about the status quo and how it was unsustainable. That is bad news for [Binyamin] Netanyahu [the Israeli prime minister].

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Cairo, said the speech basically translated to “democracy good, repression bad”.

“He slapped a few American allies, saying if people want change you can’t stand in the way,” Fisher said.

The Guardian describes Netanyahu’s response following Obama’s speech:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Thursday Israel would object to any withdrawal to “indefensible” borders, adding he expected Washington to allow it to keep major settlement blocs in any peace deal.

In a statement after President Barack Obama’s speech outlining Middle East strategy, Netanyahu said before heading to Washington that “the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence”.

“That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004,” the statement added, alluding to a previous letter from Washington suggesting Israel could keep larger settlement blocs as part a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Here is the reaction from Libya, again via the Guardian:

“The Libyan regime didn’t watch it. Government spokesmen weren’t interested and it wasn’t on state TV.”

Did you watch Obama’s speech? What is your reaction to his statement about the Mideast peace process, the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the future US response to uprisings in countries such as Bahrain and Syria?


Photo by Chuck Kennedy (Official White House photo) (The Official White House Photostream on Flickr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Leslie C.
Leslie Cochrane6 years ago

cont'd. . .The last thing the Palestinians want is peace with Israel. The Israelis get it. Now is the time for us to get it too.

Leslie C.
Leslie Cochrane6 years ago

Kinda late to be adding this here, but I don't think anyone who thinks Israel is wrong in holding onto their current borders, or building a wall to protect themselves, knows their history, or even understands the mind-set of the Arabs surrounding their tiny country. If I gave my neighbor a substantial amount of land "back", & they returned the favor by throwing bombs back at me, I would build the highest wall possible and refuse to relinquish any additional territory. We are also caught in an ethical dilemma,with Syria - and all the Arab Spring nations, because fundamentalism, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, will crush any hope for freedom, with a new form of oppression those people could never imagine. And pity all the minority religious groups currently living in those regions - because, while the hypocrites protest about their own rights, people such as the Christians will be systematically eliminated, as is already happening now. There will be eons of going backwards before progress will occur. Fundamentalist Muslims don't think like people in the democratic world, and are unlikely to understand democratic principles, let alone apply them, for at least another 600 yrs.They have been brainwashed into thinking there is a better place to be & so have lost the fear of death, while disrespecting and abusing one another, as well as anyone who isn't them. They truly believe their egomaniacal god has an agenda of brutality, much like his followers. The last thing t

Camila K.
Kamila A6 years ago

I love this President, may God bless him

Faye S.
Faye S6 years ago

Maybe the US should revert back to it's 1958 borders..then Hawaii wouldn't be a state and Obama wouldn't be president!

Zuzana Dratovnikova

Obama is killing the only democracy in the Middle East. Giving the expansiveness of muslims yet another green light. He calls it "listening to the people". So, for Obama, if he can force public opinion through the leftist media....the right and wrong really do not matter any more. For Obama, if 10 people say that the sky is green but only 9 say it is blue, democratically speaking, to apply the democratic principles universally, the sky is green. Because Obama decided so.

Steven Hemstreet
Steven Hemstreet6 years ago

What a joke - how can you deal with a group that does not recognize the right of Israel to exist? Palestinians and Hamas are thugs who enjoy killing! The Palestinians and Hamas care nothing for having leaders who want to enjoy life and have a live and let live existence. There has never been a Palestinian state - where Israel is now was part of Egypt and not a Palestinian state. Where was all of this protesting when it was part of Egypt?

Frank Mugford
Frank Mugford6 years ago

Israel can no longer get away with its Fascist activities, the Apartheid it practises and the cruelty with whiuch it treats Palestinians. The game has been up for a long time but they just won't lie down.
Statistics show the truth of the deplorable activities of the IDF and the criminal ethos of the government of Nazirael. The best thing for Israelis to do, as soon as possible, is try and make peace with their neighbours, on a personal as well as a national basis, and hope that Palestinians won't seek too much revenge because there are a hell of a lot of scores to settle; one hopes that Palestinians will correctly identify the perpetrators of the foul and criminal acts carried out by Israeli 'Operators'.

Gillian no fwds please no
Gillian M6 years ago

Through the years America has stuck its nose into other countries affairs to twist them to those that they believe best suit them at the time. Their interference through the years in the Middle East has caused most of the problems today.

One only has to look at Afghanistan where money should have been put in to help rebuild the social structure after the Taliban were supported to chase out the Russians or Iran or, now, Iraq. Still, Iran & Iraq was over oil and Afghanistan was over Russia but it is still the populations in the countries involved that have suffered as well as those in the military.

At the moment my main concern is the behaviour of Obama towards Israel, it has been insulting at best. Yet the Palestinians continue to prove that there is no real interest in peace, only the destruction of Israel. Is it not time to turn towards Jordan, who stole much of the land to be allocated between Israel and the Arabs (no Palestinians in 1948) and demand that they hand over some of the land and stop treating the Palestinians who live there as third class citizens.

Teresa E.
Teresa E6 years ago

How about if Obama starts worrying about US boarders.

Patricia S.
Pat S6 years ago

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