Let’s start with the positives. Obama was at his best when he discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (although many Palestinians and Arabs will be disappointed that he decided to address the most important issue to them at the very end). It was crucial that Obama mention very clearly that the foundation for the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians is the 1967 borders. That is quite a welcome change in US approach.
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Territorial and security issues should be discussed first, simply because progress on those matters, assumed to be easier to make, will build confidence between the two parties and create a positive momentum to tackle the thorny challenges of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.
Obama was also genuine and creative when he discussed the importance of economic reform in the Middle East and how the United States intends to provide timely assistance on that front. Obama is right to state that closed economies in the region do not advance the cause of freedom and prosperity. He should be applauded for coming up with specific plans to help the countries of Egypt, Tunisia, and others in the their quest for economic development. Kudos to the USAID team at the State Department for the work they have done on that front.
The negatives of the speech, however, can easily overshadow the positives. On a broader level, the speech did not fully appreciate the historic and game-changing nature of events in the Middle East. Mr. President, this is not about reform, it is about renewal. When Obama calls Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to reform and lead the transition to democracy, knowing full well that the dictator in Damascus will do neither, his words are not credible, to say the least.