What did President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East actually achieve? Although many people dared expect him to express stronger views on the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, Obama used his ‘charm offensive’ to assure Israelis that the United States remains on their side.
As helicopters circled the skies, and Jerusalem and Ramallah were closed off to all non residents, Obama’s speech in Ramallah played down the Jewish-only settlements by saying that the US does not see them as ‘constructive’ or ‘appropriate’ for peace, but stopping short of calling for their dismantling, which prompted the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to uncharacteristically interject in describing them as illegitimate and more than an obstacle to peace.
In Israel Obama did all the usual things, including the obligatory visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. But attention was focused on his speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre to thousands of Israeli students and academics. One of the phrases he used, in Hebrew, was ‘you are not alone’ – though using no similar phrase in Arabic when he spoke in Ramallah. Israeli Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy saw in this speech much hope because, after assuring Israel that the US is still on its side, Obama insisted that the only way forward is peace and a two states solution. Obama also stressed that the Iran threat is not only Israel’s problem, insisting that Israel must not go it alone and attack Iran without US approval. Read more