The undoing of Obama's Cairo speech

The visit to Israel by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, may usher in a new stage in US foreign policy towards the Middle East peace process, a phase that is clearly different from what many Arabs hoped for after listening to Barack Obama, the US president, in Cairo last June.
At that time, the young and charismatic president, who enjoyed wide Arab sympathy and support during his presidential election campaign, called for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world", a new start that is based on mutual respect and honest politics.
"America will align our policies with those who pursue peace and will say in public what we say in private," Obama said about the Arab-Israeli peace process, calling on Israel to "stop" the building of settlements.
But just a few months later, Obama gave up on asking Israel to freeze the construction of settlements.

When the Palestinians, with Arab backing, agreed to start indirect negotiations, Israeli authorities shocked everyone, including Biden, by announcing new massive settlement construction plans during his visit.
Biden responded by a strong condemnation and Netanyahu apologised for the "timing" of the announcement.

Clearly, Biden failed to stop the illegal settlement plans. A very weak response to what many, including Israelis, considered an "insult" to the visiting vice-president.

At Cairo University, Obama looked young, idealistic, charismatic and an advocate of change. At Tel Aviv University, Biden looked old, realistic, boring, and pragmatic.


In his speech, Biden used many of his old clichés that he used in the past to appeal to pro-Israel audiences.
Those included statements from his first visit to Israel, his meeting with Golda Meir, the late Israel president, and his belief that "change will come to the Middle East when there is absolutely no space between America and Israel" and that "you don’t need to be a Jew to be a Zionist".
It was a sad reminder of the old American political rhetoric that fails to find new common ground between Arabs and Israelis.

It was the administration of George Bush, Obama's predecessor, that squandered US prestige and financial advantage on many fronts, and which brought the US peace process to a semi-halt.
The Bush-era was known for its neo-conservative bias towards Israel, disdain for diplomacy and distrust of Arabs and their interest in peace altogether.
Since Obama came to office, many Arabs have been wondering if the US, under the Bush administration, lost the strategic and political capital necessary to push and guarantee the daunting "peace process".
They saw a new administration busy with a domestic financial crisis, a divided and partisan political system, two unwinnable wars and competition with China.
Some were afraid that Israel was quicker than Arabs in realising America's weakness by fending off Obama's calls for a freeze of settlements.
Unfortunately, Biden speech could only deepen such fears.

Since it came to the White House, the Obama administration has failed to achieve clear progress on many Middle East fronts.
It could not persuade or pressure Iran away from its nuclear programmes, Syria away from Iran, Iraqi politicians away from sectarianism, Arab regimes towards democracy or Israel away from its expansionist and confrontational policies.

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