President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo Thursday called for a sweeping change in Muslim-American relations, based on the establishment of a Palestinian Authority state.
He told 3,000 guests at Cairo University that he will put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop terror and on Israel to cease a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. He did not specifically state whether Jerusalem neighborhoods are part of the “occupation” that he said must end.
Click here for Israeli responses to the speech.
His only reference to Jerusalem was a quote from the Koran that describes Moses, Jesus and Mohammed joining together in prayer, and a call for “Jerusalem [to be] a secure home for Jews, Christians and Muslims."
President Obama opened the speech with the Islamic greeting, “Peace unto you” in Arabic and reminded his listeners of his Muslim background. He quoted the Koran several times in his Cairo speech, stating that the Muslim holy book states, “Be conscious of G-d and speak always the truth."
The focus of his speech was a list of six sources of conflict that he said must be confronted in order to reach peace -- extremism, the Palestinian Authority-Israel dispute, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious tolerance, women’s rights and economic growth and development.
Concerning Israel, he made it perfectly clear that will personally pressure for an end to the "occupation” that he said has caused displacement to the Arab population in Israel for 60 years. His speech specifically defined the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as a “Palestinian people,” and he mentioned their “suffering” immediately after referring to the Holocaust.
President Obama said that just as the Holocaust cannot be denied, Israel must recognize the right of Arabs to a PA state, which he called Palestine. “Jews have undergone thousands of years of persecution...and I will go to Buchenwald” this week to visit the Nazi death camp where Jews were butchered.
“Denying the Holocaust and threatening Israel with destruction is wrong,” he declared.
“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people have suffered in pursuit of a homeland and have suffered for 60 years of displacement.” He accused Israel of being responsible for "humiliation” of Arabs. “Let there be no doubt that the situation for the Palestinian people” is intolerable and America “will not turn its back” on the need for a PA state, he said.
“The U.S. does not accept the settlements, and they violate previous agreements,” according to the president. He was referring to the American Roadmap plan, which does not specifically call on Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria and Gaza but instead calls for negotiations on the borders of a PA state.
The president also blamed Israel for the lack of opportunity for Arabs under PA rule, despite the local Arab economy having enjoyed unprecedented economic growth following the end of Jordanian and Egyptian occupation in the 1967 Six-Day War. The socio-economic situation deteriorated with the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organization under the rule of Yasser Arafat.
President Obama insisted that “Israel must live up to its obligations” for economic opportunity for Arabs and implicitly compared the situation of Arabs with that of blacks in 19th and early 20th century America.
He also demanded a total halt to terrorism, warning that ”moral authority” is not claimed by rockets and bus bombings, but held out the opportunity for the Hamas terrorist organization to deny violence and recognize Israel.
While saying that the U.S. cannot impose peace, he added, "America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private…. Many Muslims recognize Israel will not go away, and many Israelis see the need for a PA state."
He also called on Arab states to contribute to the PA economy and society. The Arab world has pledged billions of dollars to help the government of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas but has fulfilled only a small fraction of its pledges.
The president preceded the issue of the PA-Israeli dispute with the need to end extremism. President Obama described the Muslim religion as one that “emphasizes the idea of religious tolerance and racial equality.” He declared that the U.S. “is not at war with Islam” but that the country will “relentlessly confront violence extremists who present a threat to our security.”
Concerning Iran, he asserted that it can have nuclear power if it abides by international treaties. President Obama did not spell out any specific measures to convince Tehran to end its current policy of non-cooperation with international inspectors while it continues to reach nuclear capability by enriching uranium, a key element for a nuclear weapon.
The fourth area of conflict that he addressed is democracy, which he said the U.S. cannot impose. He added that the U.S. will work with countries “that recognize the will of the people.” He specially pointed to discrimination of Copts in Egypt.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was notably absent from the speech, the official explanation being the death of his 12-year-old grandson nearly a month ago. Civil rights defenders have roundly attacked his regime as being authoritarian and suppressive.
The fifth and sixth areas of conflict that President Obama said should be address are women’s rights and economic development, both of which he stated help pave the road to peace and prosperity.
Earlier in his remarks, he warned that a “single speech” cannot “erase years of distrust.” He praised Islam as a force of religious tolerance and racial equality and said that Muslims “have always been a part of American sources.”
The president stated that “Muslims have enriched the U.S. and have won Nobel prizes,” although in fact less than handful of Muslims have won international Nobel prices.