We’ve asked Prof. Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and Middle East History at Stanford University, to give us his impression on President Obama’s speech in Cairo today. We’re sharing his response with you.
An articulate and charismatic President of the United States named Barack Hussein Obama giving a speech at Cairo University co-sponsored by al-Azhar, the most eminent institution of Muslim learning – now that’s a new picture. Its enormous symbolic value is President Obama’s biggest asset as he implements policy on the entire range of difficult issues he mentioned.
The President stated, “Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” This is an excellent basis for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The President did not provide details on how the conflict should be resolved beyond general support for “two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” But the meaning of this formulation is now contested due to its empty repetition by presidents and prime ministers whose actions and inactions have undermined it. Instead President Obama emphasized U.S. rejection of “the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” saying nothing about the future of those settlements already existing and their nearly 500,000 inhabitants. By limiting himself to an apparently pragmatic “first step,” President Obama may have made his task harder. If he does not produce concrete results very soon on this limited, albeit it absolutely necessary, measure, then the potential value of his fine words in Cairo will soon diminish.
June 4, 2009