Published on Monday, June 8, 2009 by Foreign Policy In Focus
Changing the Discourse: First Step Toward Changing the Policy?
President Barack Obama's much-anticipated
Certainly, the equivalences were limited. Equating Palestinians and Israelis as "two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history ..." doesn't reflect the reality that
As expected, Obama focused first on the historic contributions of Arabs and Muslims to global civilization and to
The shift in discourse, away from justifying reckless imperial hubris, unilateralism, and militarism, and toward a more cooperative and potentially even internationalist approach was potent. The actual policy shifts were much smaller. It remains the work of mobilized people across the United States - starting with the millions who mobilized to build a movement capable of electing Barack Hussein Obama as president - to turn that new language into new policies - reversing the escalation and moving toward ending Obama's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ending the occupation of Iraq immediately rather than years from now, ending U.S. military aid to Israel and creating a policy based on an end to occupation and equality for all, launching new negotiations with Iran not based on military threats, implementing U.S. nuclear disarmament obligations, and more.
That's the next step.
Obama began by framing
Obama began with a reassertion of the "unbreakable" bond between the
And on settlements, he said that the
Obama's overall language was stronger than that of any earlier
Similarly, regarding the Arab peace initiative, Obama ignored the reality that the initiative's starting point - a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders - has never been implemented. Instead he demanded that the Arab states "must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities." He called on them to "help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past," as if it were a Palestinian choice, rather than the consequence of continuing Israeli occupation and apartheid, that make creation of a Palestinian state impossible.
Obama did move the discourse significantly by his linking the Palestinian struggle to that of the
And on the prospects for diplomacy, Obama used language that parallels almost word-for-word the way
Importantly, Obama did restate the
He also didn't call for a Middle East-wide nuclear weapons-free and weapons of mass destruction-free zone, as called for in the U.S.-backed Article 14 of Security Council resolution 687 that ended the 1991 Gulf War. Such a call would have included the need to disarm
Obama took an important step in acknowledging that the war in Iraq, and specifically the Bush administration's claim that it was a war "for democracy," had undermined the
He went on to say that the
© 2009 Foreign Policy In Focus
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies . Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer  and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer . If you want to receive her talking points and articles on a regular basis, click here  and choose "New Internationalism."
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs