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Barack Obama presses for Middle East Reform, Israel is Opposing

Posted on: May 24, 2011

US President Barack Obama says the US has opened a “new chapter” in diplomacy after the Arab Spring uprisings.

In a speech at the state department, Mr Obama said the future of the US was bound to the Middle East by forces of economics, security, history and fate.

“It will be the policy of the US to promote reform, and to support transitions to democracy,” he said.

The speech was Mr Obama’s first comprehensive response to revolts sweeping the Arab world, analysts say.

“We face a historic opportunity,” he said. “We have a chance to show that America values the dignity of a street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.”

“As Americans have been seared by hostage taking, violent rhetoric, and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens – a failure to change our approach [in the Middle East] threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and Muslim communities,” Mr Obama added.

Key points in Mr Obama’s speech:
  •  In the months ahead the US must use all its resources to encourage reform in North Africa and the Middle East
  •  Will cut $1bn of debt for a democratic Egypt and work to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt
  •  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must lead a political transition or “get out of the way”
  •  US will continue to insist the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations
  •  Mass arrests and brute force in Bahrain are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens.
  •  The borders of Israel and a Palestinian state should be based on pre-1967 borders with agreed swaps

On the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Mr Obama said it was “up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action”.

“No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away,” Mr Obama said.

“But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples.”

President Obama said the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state should be based on pre-1967 borders, referring to those that existed before the Six-Day War.

The approach was immediately rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the 1967 lines “indefensible”.

In a statement issued shortly after Mr Obama’s speech, Mr Netanyahu said such a withdrawal would endanger Israel’s security and leave major Jewish West Bank settlements within Palestinian territory.

Mr Obama is set to meet Mr Netanyahu on Friday in Washington.

In his speech, the US president also warned Palestinians that efforts to “delegitimise” Israel would fail, and that efforts to isolate Israel at the UN general assembly September would not achieve the Palestinian goal of an independent state.

“Palestinians will never realise their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist,” he said.

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