Will Barack Obama's Speech Inspire a Generation of Israelis To Seek Peace?

Center May Run With Issue, But Bibi's Not Likely To Budge

Barack Obama put the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians squarely back on the Israeli agenda. Will the momentum keep moving or fizzle against the opposition of the right wing?
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Barack Obama put the issue of peace talks with the Palestinians squarely back on the Israeli agenda. Will the momentum keep moving or fizzle against the opposition of the right wing?

By Nathan Jeffay

Published March 25, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
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Despite signs of enthusiasm, some commentators suggested that the impact of the speech, and indeed the visit, will quickly evaporate.

“Obama is returning to the United States and its problems, internal and external,” wrote the country’s best-known journalist Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Aharonoth. “He left us with a great speech, and with the same stagnation that was here before he arrived.”

It’s also true that the speech polarized Israel, enthusing the left and dismaying the right. “It’s potentially a push towards peace and it’s energizing the peace camp,” said Hagit Ofran, a senior leader in the activist group Peace Now.

The Likud lawmaker Miri Regev was quoted by media saying that the speech was “offensive to Netanyahu.” Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, which strongly backs Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, responded by reiterating his opposition to a Palestinian state. Bennett, Israel’s new Economy and Trade Minister, said defiantly: “Anyway, a nation does not occupy its own land.”

But there is a school of thought that the speech could have the power to move the country beyond left and right, strengthening the political center, which is already buoyant after the general election, and focus it on the peace process as well as domestic issues.

“In fact, we received the founding speech of the Israeli center,” wrote Ma’ariv’s columnist Ben-Dror Yemini.

His reasoning is that Obama presented a “double address” – one that reminded the left of the virtues of Israel, and a second that sent a message to the right that the current situation with settlements, Palestinians and the occupation is unsustainable. Yemini wrote that Obama is to be credited with reminding Israelis that they need to decide quickly that it is time for Israelis to choose between a Jewish state and a bi-national state. “Tomorrow may be too late,” he wrote.


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