The reaction to President Obama’s speech has not been favorable. Tim Pawlenty, keeping to his practice of reacting swiftly to Obama’s foreign policy miscues put out a statement: “President Obama’s insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand. The city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided. To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen. At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it’s never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) put out this statement:
The President had a worthwhile focus on human rights and the need for a transition to Middle Eastern democracy. I had hoped his human rights policy would have had teeth by directly calling on Syrian dictator Assad to step down.
The President’s new decision to alter U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process concerns me. Palestinian calls for ‘1967 borders’ should be outweighed by Israel’s need for secure borders to ensure the survival of a critical U.S. ally. The President should block U.S. taxpayer assistance to Palestinian leaders who teamed up with a group his Administration certified as a terrorist organization — Hamas — responsible for the murder of at least 26 American citizens. America has no greater ally and political supporter than the Israeli democracy.”
House Foreign Affairs chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was more explicit::
I was pleased to hear the President express U.S. support for the advancement of democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa. However, it is difficult to assess the President’s goals and objectives for the region when considering some of his most significant decisions since taking office, which have included pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians while at the same time reaching out to the Syrian and Iranian regimes.
The President has now sanctioned Syria’s Assad for gross human rights violations against the Syrian people, yet he still envisions a role for Assad in Syria’s political future. And while the President rightfully drew parallels between Syria and Iran as partners in repression, no action has been taken to hold Ahmadinejad and Khamenei accountable for their brutality. We did not hear a plan to vigorously enforce all sanctions laws on the books to bring the greatest pressure possible on the Iranian and Syrian regimes.
We did not hear a pledge from the President to cut off U.S. funding to a Palestinian Authority now aligned with Hamas, nor did we hear a pledge to veto the scheme to attain UN recognition of a Palestinian state without negotiating peace with Israel. I am also disappointed that the President failed to call on the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and instead imposed new pressure on Israel to make concessions on its borders.
On Libya, after almost 60 days of U.S. involvement, we have no further clarity on our priorities, goals, and the anticipated extent of our commitment there.
I am deeply concerned that the President did not rule out providing aid to Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the government. The U.S. should only provide assistance to Egypt after we know that Egypt’s new government will not include the Muslim Brotherhood and will be democratic, pro-American, and committed to abiding by peace agreements with Israel. Further, considering our own national debt, we cannot afford to forgive up to $1 billion of Egypt’s debt.
On the President’s proposal for Enterprise Funds in Egypt and Tunisia, we must keep in mind that the performance of such funds in Eastern Europe and South Africa has been mixed. If approved, I will seek to require a portion of the profits generated be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
“Going forward, I hope that the President will work closely with Congress to advance a comprehensive and consistent regional policy focused on protecting and promoting U.S. security and interests by standing with our allies and pressuring our enemies.”
The most telling reaction was from AIPAC: Silence. A spokesman said ”We are still studying the speech.” Ooops. Damage control time! The president is coming to its conference in three days.
Former AIPAC spokesman and longtime Democratic activist Josh Block had this to say: “Mentioning the ‘67 borders in this way, at this time, is a major mistake that simply repeats the error made when the White House focused on settlements and drove the Palestinians to an untenable position from which they will not climb down. This strategic error is manifold, and undermines, not advances, the prospects for peace talks.” I imagine he is in sync with the 10,000 individuals who will be attending the AIPAC conference this weekend.
Despite criticism of the Palestinians, the speech is also implicitly threatening to Israel. Remarks such as the references to the 1967 borders show Obama’s continuing lack of real appreciation for Israel’s security.”
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams helped correct the factual record (always difficult for the administration to master):
First, the president simply rewrote history when it came to supporting democracy in the Middle East. He claimed to have done so from the start, with his Cairo speech. But in fact, his administration’s policy was engagement — engagement with regimes, not peoples, including the repressive regimes in Iran and Syria. His reaction to events in Iran in June 2009, and more recently in Tunisia and then Egypt, was cautious and slow. Perhaps this passage was an effort to avoid saying what is more accurate: that the Bush Freedom Agenda turned out to be right, and his own administration had been wrong to jettison it. Second, on the whole, the president’s comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will lead nowhere. It is striking that he suggested no action: no meeting, no envoy, no Quartet session, no invitations to Washington.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) gave his objections, including this:
This conflict is not about land or Israel’s neighborhoods beyond the Green Line. Three wars were launched against Israel prior to its establishment of new borders in 1967. By keeping the burden and thus the spotlight on Israel, the President is only giving the Palestinian Authority more incentive to carry on its unhelpful game of sidestepping negotiations and failing to put an end to terrorism. Creating another Palestinian terror state on Israel’s borders is something that none of us want. The White House referred to today’s speech as a ‘Moment of Opportunity,’ and I’m disappointed that the President’s remarks missed both the moment and the opportunity.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also criticized the president on Syria and Israel: “To continue to hold hope for democratic reform to come under Assad ignores the reality that he is a brutal tyrant. Assad has lost the legitimacy to rule and must go now.” He too didn’t like the reference to the 1967 borders: “Unfortunately, the President’s reference to Israel’s 1967 borders marks a step back in the peace process, as the U.S. must not pre-determine the outcome of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Our focus should be in encouraging direct and meaningful negotiations between the sides, and to continue playing an important role as a security guarantor in the region.”
All in all, it seems that the president did himself and the U.S.-Israel relationship very little good. In fact, could he have messed up yet another visit from Bibi Netanyahu?