Advisers describe one camp, led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing for Obama to set out a specific set of principles to resolve the conflict, including setting final borders, dividing Jerusalem and finessing the emotional question of whether Palestinian refugees should have the right to return to homes inside Israel.
But Arab diplomats say Obama will probably be far less specific in his speech, mentioning the conflict in general terms and urging both parties to return to negotiations as quickly as possible. Administration officials said no final decision had been made as of Wednesday evening, and Obama often tinkers with speeches until the last minute.
A more general statement would mark a victory for national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon and Vice President Biden, who have long professional histories with Middle East adviser Dennis B. Ross, a veteran of the Clinton administration’s peace efforts.
Ross favors giving Israel more time to assess the region’s changing politics before adding new pressure to return to negotiations.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters Wednesday that “it would be sad, given the president’s commitment on these issues since the beginning, to see Middle East peace pushed aside. It is very easy to make an excuse not to move forward. It takes statesmanship and conviction to move forward despite difficulties.”
In North Africa
Obama is also being asked to do more in North Africa. European diplomats have said this week that Obama, when he visits Britain and France next week, should expect to hear requests for help in escalating the military campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
After carrying out the initial phase of military airstrikes, Obama turned over control to NATO, placed U.S. warplanes on standby and sent in armed Predator drones. The rebellion has largely stalled on the ground, and some European diplomats say more American help is needed to hit Gaddafi’s command-and-control sites.
“The French and the British might, as they have in the past, ask for a stronger U.S. military commitment in Libya,” said a European diplomat familiar with the G-8 agenda who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Obama hesitated to fully back the anti-government demonstrations as they unfolded in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, following some European leaders in calling for regime change. He also has cautiously championed reform, but not a change in government, in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where the United States has more-potent interests in maintaining the status quo.
Administration officials said U.S. diplomats are one target audience for the speech, which will spell out the need for new diplomacy to meet the challenges posed by movements harnessing social media and other technology to overturn autocracies.
Drawing on the findings of an internal White House study of democratic transitions from Latin America to Southeast Asia, Obama will propose a set of economic policy prescriptions to help ensure that democratic governments take hold in the Middle East.
“There are a diverse set of economies in the region,” said a second administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the speech. “But all share the untapped potential of its young people.”
In addition to the debt relief and loan guarantees for Egypt, the proposals are designed to encourage economic reform, trade liberalization, educational support and training to improve private-sector management practices, as well as financial help from lending institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which played a key role in Eastern Europe’s transition to democracy.
“This is the window for us to take concrete action,” one official said.
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.