Barack Obama on Israel

Last Updated : May 23, 2011

Summary

Throughout the 2008 campaign and in previous campaigns, Senator Obama was a strong supporter of Israel's right to defend itself. He repeatedly asserted that he supported a two state solution and that both the Israeli's and the Palestinians needed to do what was necessary to achieve that objective. Shortly after winning the election, President-Elect Obama expressed support for a 2002 Saudi plan to base Israel on 1967 borders with land swaps between Israel and Palestine to make the two countries more contiguous and defensible. The plan gave Israel the ability to control the right of return.

By May of 2009, the Obama administration had begun to publicly assail the Israeli government for continued settlement expansion. Secretary of State Clinton noted that the President sought for Israel to end all settlement expansion - this included halting the typical expansion granted for normal population growth.

In September of 2009, President Obama delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly that critics called the most anti-Israeli speech to date by a US official. The President called for Israel to end the "occupation that began in 1967," stated that the US did not recognize the legitimacy of continued (not new) Israeli settlements, supported a two state solution, and called for a "contiguous" Palestine. These statements led critics to state that the Obama Administration was calling for a return to pre-1967 borders.

US - Israeli relations were further tested in March of the following year when the Israeli government announced new settlements around Jerusalem while Vice President Biden was there to negotiate the start of talks. This led to condemnation by President Obama and a statement during a Fox News interview where he called Israel's actions not helpful.

Shortly after that interview a number of news sources reported that President Obama had delivered a 4 point ultimatum to Israel calling for an end to settlement building, actions of good will which may have included prisoner release, and negotiations on post 1967 borders and possible right of return for Palestinians.

Days after those reports, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the White House and left humiliated when President Obama refused any public forum with the envoy and broke off discussions early and abruptly.

In July of 2010, negotiations concerning the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) ended with a paragraph added encouraging Israel to join the accord and calling for a nuclear free zone in the middle east. Israel is know to have nuclear weapons, but the US has chosen to avoid any discussion on the issue and blocked previous attempts to call out Israel by name.

In February of 2011, the Obama administration blocked a UN Security Counsel resolution condemning settlement building in Israel. After casting the veto vote, the UN Ambassador was highly critical of Israeli settlements and noted that the action did not indicate a change in US opinion on the matter.

In May of 2011, President Obama gave a major policy address on middle eastern policy. In this address he formally asserted his support for a peace plan that returned Israel to it's pre-1967 borders with land swaps between the two countries.

 

Chicago Jewish News Interview

In March of 2004, State Senator Obama was interviewed by the Chicago Jewish News and asked 5 questions. Two of those questions were about Israel.

 

AIPAC Policy Forum

In March of 2007, Senator Obama gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and discussed Israel and it's relationship to Iran and it's right to defend itself.

 

Israel Campaign Policy

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Senator Obama put forth the following policy.

 

Support for 2002 Saudi Plan

In November of 2008, just after the election, President-Elect Obama expressed support for a 2002 Saudi peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League. The plan would require Israel to return to it's pre-1967 borders, and would give Israel a veto on the right of Palestinians to return to Israel. President-Elect Obama was quoted as stating that the Israeli's would be crazy to turn down any deal that got them peace.

 

Stronger Stance on Settlements

In May of 2009, President Obama met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to promote the pan-arab peace plan. Not long after those meetings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that President Obama's opinion was that settlements needed to stop.

 

UN General Assembly Meeting

In a speech to the UN on the 23rd of September 2009, President Obama spoke about the Israeli settlements by stating that he did not support continued settlements. Supporters of Israel were fearful of this statement as it did not state the the US did not support new or expanded settlements, but rather that he did not support any of the settlements. He also referred to the "occupation that began in 1967." This seemed to indicate that President Obama desired to see the lands won in the 1967 war given away. The phrase "contiguous territory" in referring to Palestine further contributed to this fear.

For several months, the Obama administration had pushed for the Israelis to end the settlement building with no success. At the UN Assembly, President Obama made it clear that he supported a two state solution which would give Palestine it's own country, and that now was the time to achieve that goal. President Obama stated:

 

Biden Visit to Israel

In March of 2010, Vice President Biden traveled to Israel in attempts to initiate talks between Israel and Palestine. After he arrived, the Israeli government announced that they were starting a new settlement in recently annexed West Bank land. Vice President Biden reacted strongly to the news.

 

New Settlements Not Helpful

On March 17, 2010 President Obama was interviewed by Bret Baier of Fox News. During the interview President Obama was asked about recently announced plans to build new settlements in Jerusalem and his response was that he was attempting to start peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine and that the new settlements were not helpful to that process.

 

Ultimatum to Israel

Days after the interview with Bret Baier, a story appeared in the Jerusalem Post and Real Clear Politics claiming that President Obama had delivered a 4 part ultimatum to the Israeli government.

  • First, Israel must cancel the recently approved housing units in Ramat Shlomo.
  • Second, Israel must prohibit all construction for Jews in Jerusalem neighborhoods built since 1967.
  • Third, Israel must make a gesture to the Palestinians to show them we want peace such as prisoner release
  • Fourth, Israel must agree to negotiate all substantive issues, including the partition of Jerusalem, the Jewish neighborhoods constructed since 1967, and the immigration of millions of hostile foreign Arabs to Israel under the rubric of the so-called “right of return,” in the course of indirect, Obama administration-mediated negotiations with the Palestinians. To date, Israel has maintained that substantive discussions can only be conducted in direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials. 

 

Netanyahu Visit

Just days after unofficial stories broke that the US had given an ultimatums to Israel, the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu visited the White House in late March of 2010. During his visit, no photographer other than the official White House photographer was allowed access to the two men while they were together and no public event of any kind was held. Numerous sources also indicated that the President and his staff broke off talks with the Israeli envoy and did not return. Reports indicated that Prime Minister was humiliated by the treatment.

 

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

It is one of the worst kept secrets that Israel has a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. The US has chosen not to acknowledge or discuss the issue, and has previously prevented the issue from being addressed through the NPT or at the UN.

In July of 2010 at a meeting of the NPT signatories, language was added in review to encourage Israel to sign the NonProliferation Treaty. Israel did not attend the meeting as it is not a signatory. A similar attempt was blocked in 2005.

The inclusion of the paragraph marked a new evolution in Israeli nuclear weapons and calls for the creation of a nuclear free zone in the middle east which would include Israel. 

 

UN Resolution Veto

In February of 2011, the US vetoed a UN Security Counsel resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlements. After casting the veto of the resolution, the U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was still harshly critical of the settlements.

 

Middle Eastern Policy Address

On May 19, 2011 President Obama gave an address on middle eastern policy. In that address, he called for an Israeli peace plan in which Israel's 1967 borders were used as a basis for new borders with land swaps being given by both sides. Presumably, these land swaps would involve the Palestinians giving claims to land on which Israelis have already built settlements in exchange for land of equal amount an quality elsewhere, and exchanges to make Israeli and Palestinian border more defensible and contiguous. In his speech, President Obama stated the following:

These statements caused a controversy as many people felt that President Obama's urging of Israel to return to 1967 borders was without concessions from Palestinians and without precedence. President Obama responded to critics by emphasizing the "with mutually agreed swaps" portion of his address. President Obama did not cite precedence of the 1967 border plan.

 

 

Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

Session-109; Bill Number-S Res 534; A resolution condemning Hezbollah and Hamas - Cosponsor

A resolution condemning Hezbollah and Hamas and their state sponsors and supporting Israel's exercise of its right to self-defense.

References

[1] Website: About.com Article: Barack Obama on Israel, Iran and Iraq Author: NA Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[2] Website: ABC News Article: Israel Pressured by Obama's Tough Stance on Settlements Author: SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[3] Website: The New York Times Article: White House Pivots in Mideast Peace Bid Author: HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[4] Website: USA Today Article: Obama: Israel must halt West Bank settlements Author: David Jackson Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[5] Website: The Guardian Article: Obama and Netanyahu play hardball over Israeli settlement plan Author: Rory McCarthy and Ewen MacAskill Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[6] Website: Reuters Article: Biden scolds Israel over settlement plan Author: Adam Entous and Mohammed Assadi Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[7] Website: Fox News Article: Obama: Israel's Announcement of New Jerusalem Housing Not 'Helpful' Author: NA Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[8] Website: Jerusalem Post Article: Column One: Obamaís war on Israel Author: CAROLINE GLICK Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[9] Website: BarackObama.com Article: Israel Fact Sheet Author: Obama / Biden Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[10] Website: Real Clear Politics Article: Obama's War on Israel Author: Caroline Glick Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[11] Website: Chicago Jewish News Article: THE FIVE QUESTIONS Author: NA Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[12] Website: The Huffington Post Article: Netanyahu Humiliated After US Trip Goes Awry Author: Adam Taylor Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[13] Website: Politico Article: U.S. vetoes U.N. settlements resolution Author: Laura Rozen Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[14] Website: The New York Times Article: Nudge on Arms Further Divides the U.S. and Israel Author: MARK LANDLER Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[15] Website: Frum Forum Article: Obama Bails on Israel Author: David Frum Accessed on: 03/08/2011

[16] Website: Haaretz.com Article: U.S. envoy: Arab peace initiative will be part of Obama policy Author: Yoav Stern and Barak Ravid Accessed on: 05/23/2011

[17] Website: The Times Online Article: Barack Obama links Israel peace plan to 1967 borders deal Author: Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv and Sarah Baxter Accessed on: 05/23/2011

[18] Website: LJWorld.com Article: Obama: Israelís 1967 borders reflect longstanding policy Author: Bradley Klapper Accessed on: 05/23/2011

User Comments