Obama's State of the Conflict Address

This time around, a State of the Union address that skips over the state of "our" conflict would be seen as an evasion, a way of avoiding dealing with an American and international interest. Says who? Barack Obama.

To judge by U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in January of 2010, the speech he will give tomorrow before a joint session of Congress is likely to focus on the American economy, whose downward spiral is the chief concern of many U.S. citizens. Last year he dedicated no more than nine minutes of his 71-minute speech to foreign affairs - a brief sentence on Iraq and Afghanistan, an even shorter report on talks with Russia aimed at reducing the nuclear stockpile, and a few words on the Iranian threat.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians weren't even hinted at.

This time around, a State of the Union address that skips over the state of "our" conflict would be seen as an evasion, a way of avoiding dealing with an American and international interest. Says who? Barack Obama.

In his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama said the only way to fulfill the aspirations of both Israel and the Palestinians is through "two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security." He said this resolution was not just in the interest of the parties to the conflict but also in "America's interest, and the world's interest."

In September, Obama reiterated that an Israeli-Palestinian peace was a strategic American interest, saying the end of the long-standing Mideast conflict would help the United States deal with Iran and terror organizations.

Conclusion: A failure to see the two-state solution implemented would be a failure of the Obama administration's effort to follow through on an American interest, and could even damage the United States.

Since the conflict is both an American interest and an international one, Obama owes American citizens, and the rest of the world, a report on the progress of final-status negotiations. It would be appropriate for Obama to set clear goals for international diplomacy and lay out an action plan for the coming year. As a service to the president's speechwriter, what follows below is a suggestion for the Israeli-Palestinian section of Obama's speech. (His assistants are advised to hide this draft from Obama's political advisers, who give preference to partisan interests and are troubled by the president's reduced standing in the eyes of the old American Jewish establishment. )

"As you no doubt recall, right after I got to the White House, I appointed our good friend, Sen. George Mitchell, as a special envoy to the Middle East. A short time later I traveled to Cairo, where I proposed opening a new page in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. I committed to act to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel and to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for dignity and a state of their own. From Cairo, I traveled to the Buchenwald concentration camp and announced there that the United States will always be committed to Israel's security.

"Instead of dealing with promoting a final-status agreement that would assure Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish country, I found myself mired for a year and a half in negotiations over the expansion of balconies. Even as the National Security Council noted the surprising achievements of the Palestinian Authority's security services, our consulate in Jerusalem reported an unprecedented rate of construction in the settlements. In the three months since the moratorium on settlement construction expired, Israel registered no fewer than 1,760 new building starts over the Green Line.

"You've surely read in the papers about new plans to further entrench the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. Let me remind you that this isn't a partisan issue; in the road map peace plan suggested by President Bush seven years ago, Israel pledged to completely freeze construction in the settlements and dismantle outposts built in contravention of its own laws.

"In response to a request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we convinced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to defer, for the time being, the discussion on the difficult core issues surrounding the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Sen. Mitchell received the Palestinians' proposed map of permanent borders that is based on the 1967 lines and entails the exchange of territory. Abbas also presented us with proposed security arrangements, including the deployment of NATO forces in territory that Israel would evacuate.

"Not only has the Israeli government vehemently refused to present its own plan for a final-status arrangement, but Netanyahu's envoy refused to physically accept the Palestinian proposal.

"In the coming months, we will make a supreme effort to rescue the peace process. If there is no substantial change in Israel's position, the United States will recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, this coming September. You all know that this is in America's interest."