After all was said and done, more was said than done. It was a fabulous speech, beautifully crafted, but it did not represent a sea change in the quest for a two-state solution to the perennial Palestinian problem.
Freezing Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not the issue. Soaring rhetoric could not mask President Obama's modest strategic agenda. The paltry plight of Palestinian refugees left to languish in camps in other Arab countries was barely acknowledged.
Nine U.S. presidents have wagged a finger at Israel and asked Jerusalem to quit expanding settlements. Reassured by a friendly Congress, even a wink and a nod from President George W. Bush, successive Israeli governments ignored gentle slaps on the hand — and expanded.
George Mitchell, the White House's Middle East fact-finder, gets much of his inside information from the Israeli media. A 262-page secret government report that Haaretz scooped, showed how the Israeli Defense Forces ignored the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian-owned land.
And this was done without compensation. The Israeli Defense Forces F had the watch on the occupied territories. This included safeguarding Palestinian rights.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated clearly that settlements will continue to expand to take care of "natural growth" of 10,000 new babies a year. This means new schools and hospitals and a few new dwellings here and there on land that was to become a Palestinian homeland one day.
The real problem, which Obama did not allude to when he spoke of a two-state solution, is not a mandatory freeze on new settlements but the dismantling of about 160 settlements that house about 400,000, including East Jerusalem.
Many West Bank Jewish settlers are American-born. The overwhelming majority chose to be pioneers in what they regard as the ancestral land of Israel. This means that, even if a peace treaty is negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it cannot be implemented in the West Bank, which looks like a piece of Swiss cheese, pockmarked with fortified Israeli settlements.
More than 400 miles long, the $2.5 billion, razor-backed Wall of Separation snakes in and out of Palestinian territory to a depth of 4 miles. The Bethlehem district, for example, is home to 170,000 Palestinians, for the most part concentrated in three towns. The West Bank's water aquifer runs under the settlements from north to south.
The Israelis also have made it clear that a Palestinian state, should one be born, will not have any air rights over its own country. It also will have to be a demilitarized state. This means that only police and constabulary units will be allowed.
There will be no Israeli surrender of sovereignty over greater Jerusalem. For the Palestinians, Arab East Jerusalem is their capital city — or there's no deal. Israel also plans to keep a security fence along the Jordan River to prevent suicide terrorists from sneaking into the West Bank.
But the wall has another purpose. Close to 90 percent of the wall is on Palestinian land inside the West Bank, encircling Palestinian towns and villages and cutting off families, separating farmers from their land and Palestinians from their workplaces.
The separation encompasses more than 50 Israeli settlements. It has been under construction since 2002. But Israel says it is a temporary structure, destined to come down if peace is ever achieved. For now, it protects more than 50 Jewish colonies.
Under Bush 43, the United States would talk only to Palestinian leaders "not compromised by terror," which excluded Hamas. Obama deals Hamas back in. Netanyahu says there is no point in more talks about talks until the Palestinians have a strong united voice that recognizes Israel. This deals Hamas out.
Israeli leaders feel they can hang tough with the support of their many friends on Capitol Hill, who have expressed reservations about Obama's attempts to pressure Israel into negotiations for a two-state solution.
Obama's apologies for what the United States did to Iran in 1953 demonstrate a frightening lack of institutional memory. This reporter, then in Tehran with Newsweek, covered the rise and fall of Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh half a century ago. Obama, like his Democratic predecessors, apologizes for a coup, facilitated by the CIA, that kept Iran out of the still growing Soviet empire. Mossadegh, like Chile's Salvador Allende, was putty in the hands of Communist molders.
In Iran, it was the Communist Tudeh Party. Stalin had died four months before, but Tudeh, like Communist parties all over the world, still was slavishly subservient to Moscow's edicts. And when the shah was returned to power after a two-week exile in Rome, Iran's security forces brutally pushed aside the Tudeh and moved its headquarters to East Berlin.
Obama also denounced conspiracy theories about Sept. 11, 2001. Gen. Hamid Gul, a former Pakistani intelligence chief, was the first important person to peddle the disinformation that the CIA and Israel's Mossad staged the Sept. 11 coup to give the Bush administration the pretext for a war on Islam.
Today, a large number of Pakistani journalists accept this palpably ludicrous theory. Books peddling the same load of bullfeathers sold 3 million copies in Europe. Millions of Arabs believe it.
Now this anti-U.S. poison has spread to four continents. It required more than half a sentence in Obama's historic speech. It is the fount of much anti-American thinking in today's world.
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