Obama's long journey on the road to Zionism
When it comes to U.S.-Israel relations, this was a "new" Obama -- both in style and substance -- who addressed world leaders in the UN General Assembly in New York.
Gone was the "old" Obama's 2009 Cairo speech, in which he justified Jewish claims to statehood in the Holy Land merely on the basis of European atonement for centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust -- a formulation that Iranian President Ahmadinejad also uses when he slams Europeans for dumping Jewish survivors and newcomers on land belonging to indigenous Muslims.
This time, the "new" Obama traced Jewish sovereignty back 3,000 years to the Jews' "historic homeland." This muffles his pronouncements in May that Israel should withdraw to the 1967 lines, with a few land swaps. In contrast, Israel's "historic homeland" encompasses land that stretches far beyond the 1967 line -- land that includes places like Jerusalem's Old City, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, Hebron, and other biblical sites in the West Bank -- all part of what Mahmoud Abbas wants and demands for a Palestinian state.
In any further peace negotiations, this gives Israel a leg up to start with more expansive claims than Obama recognized just a few months ago. Israel may still opt for something less than its entire "historic homeland," but it now can demand a higher negotiating price from Abbas. The contest over borders has just been changed -- in Israel's favor. When you link Jewish sovereignty to the Jews' "historic homeland," this also strengthens, first and foremost, Israel's claims to almost all of Jerusalem. Taken literally, Obama's words rule out East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital.
Gone also was the "old" Obama who targeted Jewish settlements as illegitimate. And gone was the "old" Obama, who insisted on one-sided Israeli concessions like freezing Jewish construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Instead, Obama challenged Israel's Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians, to stop the hate, to stop the rocket attacks, to stop the suicide attacks. The "new" Obama was far more emphatic in defending Israel's security interests and its existential need for strong security guarantees.
Take a close look at the salient remarks in Obama's speech to an audience that is far from sympathetic to Israel:
"Any lasting peace must acknowledged the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
"Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel's citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.
"Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied
"The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine."
Whatever Obama's motives may have been for deviating so strikingly from past pronouncements -- and skeptics immediately will point to his reelection needs -- what matters more are the worlds of a U.S. president and where and how he positions America on the world stage.
And on that global stage in New York, the world indeed heard a "new" Obama.