Before President Obama stepped on Air Force One and flew on to Jordan, the biggest score of his trip to the Levant took place: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan spoke by phone for the first time since Bibi took office in 2009. The vital Turkish-Israeli relationship had been frozen by infamous Mavi Marmara incident back in 2010, which put the two countries at odds at the most strategically inconvenient moment possible.
This last achievement may pay the most in terms of immediate dividends; Israel and Turkey are separated only by total chaos and any resuscitation of their once-strong alliance is not just good, it’s necessary.
But before this phone call happened, the big story was (and will probably remain) President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem yesterday. Tal Kra-Oz did a recap for us here. Here’s what others have been saying about the address:
Dashing the most hot sauce on it was Jeffrey Goldberg, who believes that had Obama delivered yesterday’s speech at AIPAC, he would have been roundly booed.
He would not have been booed for his vigorous endorsement of the Zionist idea, of course; nor for his promise to stand by Israel though thick and thin; not for his expressions of admiration for Jews and Judaism; and not for the promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge; but for asking his audience to sympathize with ordinary Palestinians, who have lousy lives in good measure because of the occupation. He definitely would have been heckled for that one.
The same could probably be said for Congress and Florida.
Yossi Klein Halevi, who said it “may have been the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president,” appreciated its acceptance of the Israeli narrative regarding peace, which for years has been an unrelenting source of frustration for Israeli advocates, spox, and hasbaraists.
Obama acknowledged—no, he deeply affirmed—the well-earned right of Israelis to be skeptical of appeals to peace. You held out your hand in friendship and made a credible offer for peace and that was rejected, he told us. You withdrew from Gaza and got missiles in return. And when you look around the region, you see instability and wonder how peace can possibly come.
The news wasn’t all good from Yossi, who added this somber note:
There was something deeply unsettling, almost cruel, in trying to reawaken our suppressed hopes for normalcy—for a new Middle East, in the language of the Oslo peace process.
The theme of reinvigorating the peace process was taken at different face values. Barak Ravid offered that Obama had given Israelis a stark reminder of a fact they’ve been ignoring.
Above all, Obama told the truth. He reminded Israelis that despite all their achievements and their desire to move on and tackle other issues, the conflict with the Palestinians was and is a millstone around their necks.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Tobin at Commentary was (predictably enough) much less sanguine:
Those who would dismiss the president’s speeches as meaningless rhetoric shouldn’t underestimate the power of words, especially from an American president, to set the tone in the region. But those who think Obama’s appeal to Israelis to force their leaders to once again take risks for peace (something that runs contrary to the verdict of the recent Israeli election) may not only be misreading the mood of the Israeli public; they are also ignoring the Palestinians.
Over at Foreign Policy, Hussein Ibish saw good things in the sustained Israeli applause when Obama mentioned peace and urged an empathetic view of the Palestinian plight, but also in Obama’s girding of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.
From a Palestinian point of view, it was already highly significant that Obama was not just going to Israel but also Ramallah and Bethlehem for significant talks with both President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. This communicated several important messages: that the Palestinians are still an important factor in the equation, and that they have a leadership, including both Abbas and Fayyad, that is to be engaged with seriously. And by specifically and repeatedly citing the Palestinian Authority’s institution-building and security measures led by Fayyad, Obama was sending a clear signal that he wants to continue to deal with the present Palestinian prime minister, who has been under considerable political pressure in recent months.
But most importantly of all: What did you think?