Sunday, May 22, 2011

Obama repackages Middle East message for AIPAC


By GARY BAUMGARTEN
He actually didn’t say anything new. But he said it in a way that was more palatable to the Jewish community. Emphasizing friendship, security and Israel’s right to exist. As President Obama addressed an enthusiastic crowd at the AIPAC national policy conference in Washington, DC.
Obama struck a nerve on Thursday during his Middle East policy address at the State Department when he referred to a need to return to pre-1967 war borders. But he clarified that in his Sunday AIPAC address, saying that the ultimate borders have to be negotiated by the two sides. And that they would not look exactly as they did before the Six Day War – that land swaps would have to be included.
And he reemphasized, in stronger terms,  that Israel should not be required to negotiate with a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas – so long as Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction.
“The commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is iron clad, Obama said, noting that the U.S. has “increased foreign military financing to record levels.”
“We will maintain Israel’s quantative military edge,” he pledged.
And he reiterated the U.S. commitment to ensuring that Iran, which is bent on Israel’s destruction, not become a nuclear power.
“We’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime,” he noted.
But he also said it is in Israel’s national security interests to negotiate a peace with the Palestinians. And that, he said, includes borders.
“Core issues,” Obama said, “can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties.”
Negotiations that don’t include Hamas.
“No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” Obama declared.
He also called upon Hamas to release Israeli soldier Galad Shalit who it has held for five years.
But he reiterated that the Israelis have to give some too. He said that in his 90 minute closed door meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he noted that the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly. Given the shifting demographics, Obama said, a peace settlement earlier, rather than later, is in Israel’s best interests.
And he said he told Netanyahu that Israel must convince the “new generation of Arabs … reshaping the region” of its willingness to help create a sustainable peace.
But the bottom line, Obama said, is that “Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter of debate.
“That is my commitment,” Obama said. “That is my pledge to you.”

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