Obama's approval soars in Israel after UN speech

Thursday, September 22, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

For the first time since he was elected three years ago, US President Barack Obama on Thursday was viewed by a broad cross-section of Israeli Jews as a friend of their nation.

The reason behind that shift (most Israelis had previously seen Obama as overtly pro-Muslim and pro-Palestinian) was Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly a day earlier in which he firmly rejected the Palestinians' unilateral statehood bid.

Obama was one of the first leaders to address the world body as the Palestinians officially kicked off their effort to gain international recognition for an independent Palestinian state.

The president was not impressed by the stunt, and stated in no uncertain terms that it would not bring peace.

"Genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves," said Obama, reiterating his call for bilateral negotiations, which Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been avoiding for the past two years.

"Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now," Obama continued. "Peace depends upon compromise among peoples who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted."

While Obama did repeat his support for the Palestinians achieving an independent state, he spent far more time stressing America's commitment to Israel's security.

"We believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day," said Obama. "Let's be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it."

Obama even acknowledged the hate-filled anti-Jewish indoctrination of young Arabs throughout the region:

"Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them."

Perhaps most importantly, Obama clearly identified the Land of Israel as the "historic homeland" of the Jewish people.

Israeli leaders insist that a cornerstone of any future peace agreement must be a public recognition by Palestinian leaders of Israel as the Jewish state. Abbas has vehemently rejected that condition, and Obama's remarks were seen as a rebuke of Abbas' position.

Palestinian officials were furious, and declared Obama's speech a "stab in the back" to Palestinian aspirations.

Demonstrating that they just don't grasp what Obama was trying to say, a Palestinian official told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas "can't understand why Obama has changed his position regarding a Palestinian state."

Of course, Obama has not changed his position. He still wants to see a Palestinian state birthed on the ancient Jewish lands of Judea and Samaria. But the brashness of the Palestinian stunt at the UN has forced leaders like Obama to take a step back and publically highlight Israel's own claims to the land. And Israel has so far leveraged that situation masterfully.

The stern tone of Obama's address is believed to have blunted the Palestinian effort, and on Thursday a senior aide to Abbas announced that while the Palestinian leader would still request UN membership from the Security Council on Friday, he would not demand an immediate decision.

The White House on Wednesday confirmed that Obama told Abbas it doesn't matter how long he gives the Security Council to consider Palestinian statehood, because the US will veto the motion.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a rocky relationship with Obama, personally thanked the American before the two men met behind closed doors.

Netanyahu hinted that Obama had altered his previous position that seemed to suggest Israel alone was to blame for the lack of peace, and now recognized that it was Palestinian rejection of Israel's legitimate conditions that most hindered a final status agreement.

Back in Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barack and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman labeled Obama's UN speech as the words of a true friend and ally.

While most Israelis were appreciative of Obama's speech and the opportunity it afforded Israel to highlight its position, there was still skepticism as to his motives.

The issue of Israel is expected to play an even larger role in next year's presidential election that it did in 2008. Aware of that fact, Obama's media advisers contacted supportive Jewish leaders in the US and urged them to get their communities to watch the president's UN speech. That according to Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

"The advisers, all Jewish themselves, asked the supporters to 'spread the word' that Obama will give a pro-Israel speech which reflects his own genuine positions and implored them to pay close attention to the president's UN address," reported the newspaper.

There is also the matter of the Christian vote. Already, the Republican Party presidential frontrunners - Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman and Mitt Romney - have been emphasizing their pro-Israel credentials, and Obama may be feeling pressure to one-up them.

Whatever Obama's motivation, Israel appears determined to use the opportunity to correct numerous misconceptions surrounding the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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