Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Blog

For the untrained eye, it is very easy to be disappointed by the President’s speech at AIPAC. Most of it was filled with the typical pandering politicians engage in when speaking to the powerful lobby group. Obama’s speech boasted of things that the US should really be embarrassed by, including standing against the Goldstone Report and its attempts to hold Israel accountable for its grave human rights violations, as well as opposing UN efforts to settle outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of international law.

But in a manner reminiscent of a family “intervention” into a member’s destructive drug habit, all that “you know we’re here for you” talk is really the reassurance given as a prelude to the core point of “but you have a problem that you really need to deal with responsibly.” That moment came a little past the halfway mark in President Obama’s speech, when he said: “I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with each other… Here are the facts we all must confront.”

President Obama then outlined the reasons why Israel cannot go on acting as though reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians was not an urgent priority. He noted the shifting demographics west of the Jordan river that are making it impossible for Israel to remain Jewish and democratic without ending the occupation; the technological developments that are making Israel’s security less immune to threats; and most importantly the political earthquakes that shook the region this year and the growing global impatience with the dysfunctional peace process (euphemism for Israel’s intransigence, a key reason for the perennial failure of the peace process).

Commenting on the region’s uprisings and the shifting global mood, the President said:

“A new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Moving forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained. And just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe. And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.”

MJ Rosenberg says that the President “did a masterful job,” and predicts that Netanyahu will “cut his losses and back down.” I think that prediction is overly optimistic, but it is certainly fair to say that President Obama deserves some credit for having found a way to speak some needed truth to AIPAC (which in an election cycle mirrors the “speaking truth to power” standard of courage). Of course, however “masterful,” his speeches have not kept leading Republican candidates for 2012 from seeking to capitalize on any indication from the President that Israel isn’t perfect, as they now fall over each other to claim that he has “thrown Israel under the bus.” It remains to be seen how far (if at all) Obama will be forced to backtrack during the election season, or how much tougher and more blunt he will become if he is reelected, as is looking increasingly likely.

Video of AIPAC address: