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Obama’s Fine Words Fall Flat – OpEd

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Two years ago, President Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim world in Cairo, promising a new beginning to America’s relationship with it.

The Muslim world responded enthusiastically. It reached back in hope having heard him say that it was his duty to fight negative stereotypes of Islam and declare solemnly that the Israeli settlements had to stop and that the US would not turn its back on legitimate Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own.

But over the following months it became clear that there was nothing to reach out and grab. The American hand had vanished. Obama’s fine words had dissolved into meaninglessness. Despite his condemnation, Israel continued with the settlements; despite his implied promise of support for a Palestinians state, it did not happen. The reality was a US which refused to force the Israelis to the negotiating table.

The American president has been at it again. Yesterday he offered a second keynote speech to the region, this time specifically — apparently — for Arab ears. Again, there were fine, noble words. He talked about reform in the region, about human rights, democracy, justice and hope. He talked about the right of women, of religious minorities. He condemned oppressive regimes, and he offered billions of dollars to those governments that would support democracy.

He might as well have been speaking in a soundproof box. The only people who were listening were the Americans and the West. Even before he opened his mouth, Arabs were in no mood to trust him or believe in him. They have heard enough of his honeyed words. They have seen the reality of his sharp deeds, such as the US veto of the UN resolution last February condemning Israel’s settlements policy.

How can anyone trust a man that says he opposes Israel’s settlements but then vetoes the right of anyone else to do something about it? The more Obama talks, the less he is believed; the more he moralizes, the less he is trusted. His credibility is blown.

Obama thinks that he can rebuild trust in him through his support for the Arab reform movement and by doling out cash. It will not work. Palestine is the one and only anvil on which trust in the United States can be reforged — and on that he showed yesterday that not only has he nothing to offer but that he has become the problem.

In the Palestinian-Israeli footnote to his speech, he repeated his vision of a Palestinian state and Israeli security side by side, but also made commitments that guarantee it will not happen. He reaffirmed that Israel can always count on the US for its security and for protection from international criticism (that is shorthand for UN resolutions). With guarantees like that, the Israelis are never going to make meaningful concessions.

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If Obama wants our trust and friendship, then he must work on the one area where he has failed so disgracefully to deliver — Palestine.

Cash is not an acceptable alternative. Arabs are not going to embrace democracy simply because there is American money attached. We do not want American bribes. The very idea taints Arab aspirations for change. Arab freedom is not a commodity that can be bought and sold. He can keep his cash. The US economy needs it more than we do.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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