The United States has objected to the settlements since 1967, but its position has changed. The Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations stated that the settlements were illegal. Since the Reagan administration (1981), the U.S. has called the settlements "an obstacle to peace" without referring to their lawfulness.
Former president George W. Bush agreed to Israeli construction in the large settlement blocs in exchange for Israel evacuating the settlers from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, and accepting the "two-state solution."
Yesterday, Obama introduced a new term. He said the U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of "continued settlements" and would see construction as a violation of previous agreements and as undermining efforts for peace. Obama's envoys demanded a complete suspension of building.
Obama's words are compatible with the "Bush letter" to prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, which recognized "existing Israeli population concentrations" in the West Bank - but not expanding them. Thus Obama refers only to new construction and not to existing settlements.
Obama is not the first president to oppose the occupation. Bush called to end the "occupation that began in 1967," and said it was untenable for Palestinians to go on living in squalor and occupation. But Obama compared the Palestinian struggle to other liberation movements from slavery, colonialism and Communism.
At his meeting with Netanyahu, Obama said Israel was an "independent Jewish state." He did not repeat that phrase, which the Arabs reject, in Cairo, and only spoke about America's recognition of the aspiration for a Jewish homeland after hundreds of years of persecution.
Obama said more Jews were murdered in the Holocaust "than the entire Jewish population of Israel today." He vehemently rejected Holocaust denial and called on the Arabs to avoid anti-Semitic statements. Immediately afterward he spoke about the Palestinians' suffering, the Palestinian refugees' "pain of dislocation" and the everyday humiliation of the occupation.
Obama said he objected to Iran having a nuclear bomb for fear of an arms race in the region. He spoke of "decisive points," but did not explain what they are. He did not issue a threat or warning to Iran, and only stressed that it has the right to "peaceful nuclear power" under supervision.
Arab peace initiative
Contrary to expectations, Obama didn't adopt the Arab peace initiative and said it was only the first step. He is demanding the Arab states accept Israel's legitimacy and help the Palestinians.
Bush announced in 2002 the vision of "two states living side by side in peace and security." Obama stated simply that there is no other solution than two states and did not speak about the Palestinian state's character or government.
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