5/22/11, "Barack Obama's big Middle East gamble," UK Telegraph, Toby Harnden
"Barack Obama seems unrepentant over his comments on Israel's border and appears to think that his own personality will be enough to resolve a '100-year-old headache'."
"Striding to the podium inside the Washington Convention Centre, President Barack Obama did his very best to avoid any sense that he felt intimidated by entering what was, in political terms, the lion's den.
There was tepid applause and a couple of isolated boos from the crowd of almost 10,000 members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as Aipac, the premier and most hardline mainstream group in the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
The reception was one of intense scepticism. A vast majority of delegates felt that Mr Obama had a need to explain himself after his comments that a Middle East peace deal should be based on Israel's 1967 border incorporating agreed land swaps with the Palestinians.
But if they thought that the American president was going to take back his words in Thursday's speech at the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters, then
- they were sorely mistaken.
Rather than even acknowledge the artlessness of his 1967 comments, or the fact that he had not prepared the Israeli Government for what he was about to say, his tone was of the "I'm sorry you feel that way" variety of non-apology.
In the Oval Office on Friday, Mr Obama did little to disguise his irritation with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, for turning to him to deliver an impassioned tutorial on Israel's history in the full glare of the cameras.
"It's the ancient nation of Israel," the Likud leader told Mr Obama. "We've been around for almost 4,000 years. We have experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We've gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres
- and the murder of millions."
It was an unprecedented rebuke of an American president by an Israeli premier. Menachem Begin is said to have delivered similar monologues to President Jimmy Carter, but never in public.
Even 48 hours later, it was clear at the Aipac conference that Mr Obama, who is remarkably thin-skinned for a top-flight American politician and has never been lacking in self-regard,
- was still smarting.
When loud applause greeted Mr Obama's mention of Mr Netanyahu's name, the president's eyes narrowed and he chewed his lip.
- He was distinctly unamused.
He went on to repeat, to stony silence, exactly what he had said at Foggy Bottom in an address that the White House anticipated would be heralded around the world for its embrace of people power in the "Arab Spring" uprisings in the Middle East.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states," he said. "The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."...
In this environment, the prospect of serious peace negotiations is as dim as ever, but Mr Obama appeared to feel that his own personality, political skills and success against the al-Qaeda leader would be enough to resolve what President Harry Truman once described as "the 100-year headache". Personal relations between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu have always been frosty and White House advisers had been briefing for months that they did not think the Israeli premier would be prepared to take risks for peace.Some Israelis believe that Mr Obama hoped his words would destabilise Mr Netanyahu's coalition government and bring in Tzipi Livni, the Kadima leader and head of the Israeli opposition, who is viewed in Washington as more flexible and realistic....
But Mr Netanyahu's coalition appears to be solid at the moment and he could emerge stronger from his spat with Mr Obama. ...
In spelling out to Israel, as he did at Aipac, what he sees as "the facts we all must confront", no one could accuse him of timidity. He may well, however, have made his own aim of being the great American peacemaker in the Middle East
- much more difficult to achieve."
Some are astonished that anyone would question Obama. What a change from recent American politics. Unquestioning adoration is usually reserved for rulers in monarchies and totalitarian dictatorships like the EU and Communist China. No one would have been concerned that a world leader spoke frankly in public to George Bush or even Bill Clinton. It's really not for an American to tell another country what to do about it's borders anyway. ed.