Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
So much for charges from conservative contenders for the 2012 U.S. presidential elections that Barack Obama is not pro-Israel enough — the president just won seals of approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the U.S. lobby that usually reflects their views.
If the elections, as some predict, will include a contest on who loves Israel most, Obama can use their praise to good effect. How much it will contribute to his legacy is another matter.
The plaudits came in response to Obama’s address to the United Nations on Sept. 21, when he rejected the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership in what one Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, described as “probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual U.N. General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none.”
Its tone differed sharply from his moving description of the plight of the Palestinians in a speech in Cairo in 2009, five months after taking office. For 60 years, he said, they had endured the pain of dislocation and “the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. Let there be no doubt,” he said, “the situation of the Palestinians is intolerable.”
The Cairo speech raised expectations in the Arab world that here was a president who sympathized with the Palestinians and had the power, global prestige and commitment to succeed where a long line of his predecessors had tried and failed – help create a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. It didn’t work that way.