Obama’s speech: where’s the followup?

Days after President Obama’s big Middle East speech at the State Department, the Jewish left is caught between skepticism and hope, the right is on the warpath – and I suspect most American Jews are wondering what the fuss is all about.

Yes, President Obama uttered the words “1967 borders” on Thursday along with “mutually agreed swaps,” all of which has been more or less U.S. policy for a long time even though that particular rhetorical formulation hasn’t been used.

What both sides seem to be missing is that President Obama didn’t say a word about how he plans to follow up on his words. And I suspect that’s no accident.

I”m reminded of something former U.S. peace processor Aaron David Miller, who has a habit of being right a lot more than most Middle East commentators,  told me a few weeks ago.

Increasingly concerned about growing European support for the Palestinian scheme for winning UN support for a statehood declaration in September and feeling international pressure to respond to changes sweeping across the Arab world, but also convinced Israeli and Palestinian leaders are nowhere near ready to compromise, Miller suggested the administration might try to “park the issue with a dramatic speech..

“They may see that the best strategy now is to try to cordon off this problem – just as President Bush gave his ‘Palestinian statehood’ speech in 2002, which was an attempt to ‘park’ the Israeli-Palestinian issue until the Iraq war was over,” Miller said then. “When you don’t have a policy, the pressure goes up to give a speech.”

It looks to me like that’s exactly what happened last week: a speech meant to get the attention of the Arab world, but with no diplomatic followup, no plan to turn last week’s words into reality.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.