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Disappointment is the Byword of the Left

For many, Obama’s speech this morning came up short

Marc Tracy
September 21, 2011

If President Obama’s speech last May pissed off the right, his speech today to the United Nations appears to be having a similar effect on the left. Specifically, Americans for Peace Now, which is left-leaning but, say, opposed to the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions movement, sent out a livid press release following the speech. “ Regrettably, the president’s words offered very little in the way of hope to Israelis and Palestinians,” APN head Debra DeLee argued. “We call on President Obama to not let this speech be his final word on the issue. We urge him to invest his efforts at the U.N. in the coming days in breaking the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and to launch new negotiations based on the principles laid out in his May 19th speech.”

Technically, his speech nodded in that direction: “Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May,” the president said. “That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here.” APN’s objection is more that that’s all it did. “What we were looking for, more than anything, was some kind of statement of intent for action to relaunch negotiations, to challenge the leaders,” spokesperson Ori Nir told me. “He did not do that. There was nothing substantial that he offered the Palestinians to keep them from pursuing their U.N. action.” He clarified that while APN has not taken a position on the Palestinians’ U.N. plans, it is safe to say that its ultimate goal is for the parties to end up back at the negotiating table.

Another objection more left-leaning observers could have to the speech was that Obama made a one-sided case: he spoke passionately about the Israeli predicament—“Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses”—but not about the Palestinians’ plight. The Center for American Progress’ Matt Duss was disappointed on these grounds: “it attempted to cordon off the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the broader shifts in the region, as if this were remotely possible,” he wrote. Duss added, “While Obama made a stirring and important statement regarding the security threats with which Israel lives, he made no similar statement about the Palestinians, nor any recognition that it is Palestinians, not Israelis, who are living under military occupation.”

Tea-leaf readers might like to know that DeLee sits on the board of J Street PAC (which isn’t quite the same thing as J Street). The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group controversially backed Obama’s U.N. stance.

UPDATE: J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami releases a statement which essentially echoes APN’s, except it is framed not at disappointment at what Obama didn’t do but as hope for what he may.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.