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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Obama lays his Likud trap

There is a famous episode in the classic comedy show, Fawlty Towers in which the British hotelier played by John Cleese prepares for a party of German guests with the invocation "Don't mention the war!" Obama actually came to Cairo and pulled this off. Speaking on the eve of the 42nd anniversary of the Six-Day War in which Israel actually occupied the Occupied Territories, he gave a long and considered oration which did not mention the war that gave rise to the occupation and whose humiliation is still seared in Egyptian memory. It was that war that heralded the US's seemingly infinite forbearance for Israeli actions, as proven by the heavy handed, and continuing, attempts not to mention the Israeli attempt to sink the USS Liberty.

Whereas the Israelis only accepted the obligations of the road map with a whole list of exclusions that no other party has accepted, Obama reaffirmed that "the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear ... Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve
peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

But Obama's laidback rhetoric is a trap. It successfully entices Israeli hardliners to come out explicitly with their renunciation of the Road Map and the whole consensus, in a sense exposing themselves to American politicians who might otherwise be pressured into wrecking moves. But the combination of Obama's popularity, not least with American Jewish voters, and the latter's exasperation with the neo-conservative/Likud alliance gives the White House some serious leverage to fight off such attempts to defang the new policy. However, the White House clearly knows what to expect, which is one reason for the nuance: firmly stating longstanding US official policy and restating Israeli promises while, so far eschewing overt condemnation and threats. Note 1. For the full text of Obama's speech, click here.


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