President Obama delivered his much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt.He devoted a considerable portion of his
speech to Palestine/Israel, the transcript of which we include at the end of
Below, we provide an analysis of the President’s remarks, followed by action
steps that you can take to help translate this speech into tangible change on U.S. policy
toward Israel/Palestine. Empathy for the Palestinian narrative.In his speech, President Obama broke new ground for a
sitting U.S. President by displaying considerable empathy for the Palestinian
narrative.He recognized that the
ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people is “undeniable.”He acknowledged the “daily humiliations” of
Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. And he made mention of
Palestinian refugees who for more than 60 years have “endured the pain of
dislocation” and who “wait in refugee camps…for a life of peace and security that
they have never been able to lead,” although unfortunately he fell short of
acknowledging the Palestinian refugees’ internationally-recognized right of
return.Nevertheless, President Obama
summed it up by calling the situation for Palestinians “intolerable.”
Also noteworthy was the President’s implicit comparison of the struggle for
Palestinian rights with the struggle against slavery and racial discrimination
in the United States and
in South Africa.Although this
comparison came within the context of a one-sided call for Palestinians to
abandon violence (with no concomitant call for Israel to abandon its much more
deadly violence against Palestinians), by mentioning these struggles it appears
that President Obama views the Palestinians as an oppressed people whose plight
is similar to those of other oppressed peoples, a true departure in thinking
for a sitting U.S. President.
Two-State Framework.In Cairo,
President Obama reiterated his antidote for this “intolerable” situation: “The
only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two
states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”While the US Campaign to End the Israeli
Occupation takes no position on whether there should be a two-state or
one-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we do raise critical
concerns about whether a U.S.-backed two-state solution will lead to a just and
lasting peace based on human rights, international law, and equality.
While President Obama ratcheted up his critique of Israeli settlements during
his Cairo speech, stating that the United States
does not accept their “legitimacy,” this formulation still falls short of
President Jimmy Carter’s stance deeming Israeli settlements “illegal,” as they
are according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.The President’s increasingly adamant calls for Israel to stop expanding
settlements in conjunction with its obligations under the “road map” is
certainly a positive step; however, he is still very far from demanding and
exerting pressure on Israel to dismantle all of its illegal settlements in the
West Bank and East Jerusalem, a fundamental prerequisite if the two-state solution
has any chance of success.
A two-state solution might meet some of the “legitimate aspirations” of
Palestinians currently living under Israeli military occupation in the West
Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.However, it is highly doubtful that such a
solution would fulfill the “legitimate aspirations” of Palestinian citizens of Israel who
suffer from institutionalized discrimination or Palestinian refugees whose
plight, but not rights, the President recognized in his speech.
On the one hand,
on the other. President Obama’s empathy
with the Palestinian narrative and acknowledgment that both Israelis and
Palestinians are “two peoples with legitimate aspirations” is certainly an
advance over traditional U.S.
discourse which over the decades has primarily portrayed Israel as an
innocent victim and either downplayed or ignored Palestinian human and national
rights.However, there is a danger that
the “both sides” rhetoric—“It’s easy to point fingers,” and “if we see this
conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth,”
for example—President Obama employed obscures the fact that the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been one of equals.
It has been and continues to be today a conflict of Israel, an apartheid state that
institutionalizes discrimination against non-Jews, versus Palestinians, a
people dispossessed of their homeland through ethnic cleansing.In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the
Gaza Strip, for the last 42 years it has been and continues to be a conflict of
Israel, an Occupying Power defying international law and the Geneva
Conventions, versus an Occupied People, the Palestinians who struggle daily to
maintain their existence in the face of widespread and systematic human rights
abuses by Israel.
Within this framework, it is intellectually dishonest for President Obama to
ask Palestinians to give up violence without asking the same of Israel.(In fact, Palestinian civil society is
engaging in nonviolent campaigns of boycott, divestment, and sanctions
to advocate for their rights, a call which we support.) It is unrealistic and even cruel to ask
Palestinians “to focus on what they can build” when Israel systematically destroys
Palestinian civilian infrastructure and maintains a siege of the Gaza Strip under
which Palestinians have difficulty importing pasta, much less necessary things
like concrete to rebuild after Israel’s devastating attacks that left more than
1,400 Palestinians dead and thousands of buildings destroyed.President Obama must do more than just ask Israel
“to take concrete steps to enable such progress” toward Palestinian economic
opportunity; he must recognize instead that as long as Israel maintains its
brutal occupation and siege of Palestinian territories, then Palestinian
institution-building and economic development are impossible.
Where is the United States?Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of President Obama’s speech was his
failure to acknowledge the destructive and biased role that the United States
has played and continues to play today in perpetuating the “intolerable”
situation he alluded to.
It’s not as if President Obama is incapable of recognizing and acknowledging U.S. mistakes. In other sections of his speech in Cairo, he candidly referred to the war on Iraq as a “war of choice” and honestly referenced
the fact that the “United States played a role in the overthrow of
a democratically elected Iranian government.”
Missing from his speech however was any similar recognition that U.S. policy has
directly contributed to the impasse in Israel/Palestine.By providing Israel
with more than $100 billion in economic and military aid since 1949 and by
consistently vetoing UN resolutions to bring Israel
into compliance with international law and human rights standards, the United States is the central player enabling Israel to continue
its brutal treatment of the Palestinian people.
Also absent from the President’s speech was any hint that he is prepared to
exert pressure on Israel
to achieve his goals.While words are
extremely important in setting frameworks for policy debates and while we
should rightfully views certain aspects of President Obama’s speech as
advances, rhetoric alone will not change the behavior of other nations.
To do so, the United States
should use its leverage, and with Israel we have a lot of it.President Obama has requested $2.775 billion
in military aid for Israel
in his FY2010 budget request, which now is in front of the Appropriations
Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
This is where we come into the picture.We have the power to help take the shifting discourse on U.S.
policy toward Palestine/Israel that we are witnessing and translate it into
actual policy change.
Please take some time to
read over and act on the ideas below on what you can do to organize and
advocate with us to end military aid to Israel and help us bring about a
profound change in policy.Together we
can generate the political strength to help bring about the goal President
Obama articulated yesterday in Cairo,
a goal in which we believe:
“All of us have a responsibility to work for the day
when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up
without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of
peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home
for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of
Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) --
as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them,
joined in prayer.”
1. Send a personalized letter to
the Members of Congress on the Appropriations Subcommittees with jurisdiction over military aid programs.
Later this month, the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs are likely to "mark-up" the President's FY2010 budget request, which includes $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel.
Join thousands of others who have already sent nearly 150,000 letters to these Members of Congress letting them know that you oppose the President's budget request and want to see military aid to Israel ended or, at the very minimum, conditioned on Israel achieving stated U.S. policy goals.
The US Campaign is organizing an open letter to the
Appropriations Subcommittees opposing the President’s FY2010 budget request for
$2.775 billion in military aid to Israel.To date, more than 150 organizations have endorsed this letter. To read and endorse the letter (organizational endorsements only
please), click here.
the list of national organizations that have endorsed this open
After Downing Street 2. American Jews for a Just Peace 3.
American Muslims for Palestine 4. Code Pink Women for Peace 5.
Council for the National Interest 6. Council on American-Islamic
Relations 7. Episcopal Peace Fellowship 8. Fellowship of
Reconciliation 9. Friends of Sabeel—North America 10. Global
Exchange 11. Gold Star Families for Peace 12. Grassroots
International 13. Interfaith Peace-Builders 14. Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions—USA 15. Jewish Voice for
Peace 16. Latino American Dawah Organization 17. Middle East
Children's Alliance 18. Middle East Research and Information
Project 19. Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation 20.
Muslim Student Association West 21. National Benedictines for
Peace 22. National Immigrant Solidarity Network 23. National
Lawyers Guild 24. New Internationalism Project, Institute for
Policy Studies 25. Palestine Aid Society 26. Presbyterian Peace
Fellowship 27. Progressive Democrats of America 28.
Student/Farmworker Alliance 29. Unitarian Universalists for
Justice in the Middle East 30. United for Peace and Justice 31.
United Muslims of America 32. US Campaign to End the Israeli
Occupation 33. Veterans For Peace 34. War Times/Tiempo de
Guerras 35. Women’s International League for Peace and
the full text of the open letter and to have your organization endorse it,
please click here.
3. Spread the word about our campaign.
Copy and paste the graphic to the left and link it
here and then place it on your website, blog, social networking site, and email
Receive an organizing packet in the mail from us with postcards, petitions,
flyers, fact sheets, stickers, and an educational DVD—everything you need to
educate and organize people in your community to challenge military aid to Israel. Since
February 2007, we’ve sent out more than 1,200 organizing
packets to volunteers in more than 600 cities and 48 states (yep, still waiting
on Nevada and North Dakota). Check out the amazing Google
map of all of our organizers below and sign up to join them today by clicking here.
View Challenge Military Aid to Israel in a larger map
5. Offset your tax contribution to Israeli military occupation.
Although Tax Day has come and
gone, it’s not too late for you to make a statement that you don’t want your
tax dollars going to fund Israel’s
human rights abuses of Palestinians.According to our research, Israel
killed more than 3,000 innocent Palestinians, including more than 1,000
children, during the Bush Administration, often with U.S. weapons.
We’re estimating that in FY2010,
each individual tax payer will on average be giving $17.75 in military aid to Israel.Offset your tax contribution to Israeli
military occupation and human rights abuses by making a tax deductible
contribution to us by clicking on the logo below.
For each contribution of $17.75, we will send you some of these “Yes, We
Can…End U.S. Military Aid to Israel!”
Offset the tax contribution of
just five people or more ($88.75 or more) and we’ll send you the stickers and a
copy of the award-winning documentary Occupation
Offset your tax contribution of military aid to Israel today by clicking on the icon to the left.
Remarks by the President on a New Beginning, Cairo
University, June 4, 2009
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation
between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America's strong bonds with Israel
are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural
and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish
homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted
for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe
culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where
Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third
Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish
population of Israel
today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is
hateful. Threatening Israel
with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply
wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of
memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the
Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a
homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of
dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring
lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.
They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with
occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the
Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on
the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of
their own. (Applause.)
For decades then, there has been a stalemate:
two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes
compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to
point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis
to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from
within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only
from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only
resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states,
where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
That is in Israel's
interest, Palestine's interest, America's
interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to
personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the
task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that
the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to
come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance
through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For
centuries, black people in America
suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of
segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal
rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at
the center of America's
founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe
It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It
is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children,
or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is
claimed; that's how it is surrendered.
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what
they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to
govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have
support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have
responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations,
to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize
past agreements, recognize Israel's
right to exist.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that
just as Israel's right to
exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's.
The United States
does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
(Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines
efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work
and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families,
the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does
not serve Israel's security;
neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West
Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must
be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to
enable such progress.
And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the
Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.
The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of
Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action
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.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in
public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs.
(Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims
recognize that Israel
will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a
Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be
Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood
has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when
the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without
fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that
God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and
Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to
mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the
story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in