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On Thursday, May 19, US president Barack Obama spoke about the US
position regarding the political changes in the Middle East. Obama also
reiterated the US position towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because
of his mention of the 1967 borders, Obama sparked a media storm in the
US and Israel. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky spoke to Younes Arar, a
central activist in the village of Beit Ummar that’s been the site of weekly
protests for years, the Israeli journalist Dimi Reider, to Palestinian small
business owners in Bethlehem, and to Israeli small business owners in
Tel Aviv about their take on the speech.

Story Transcript

LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: Last week, US President Barack Obama spoke at the State Department. His speech focused on the changing politics of the Middle East and North Africa region and reiterated the US position towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The speech stirred a media storm in Israel and abroad when Obama said:

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

TARACHANSKY: In the region of Hebron in occupied Palestinian territories, The Real News spoke to Younes Arar, a central activist in the village of Beit Ummar, where weekly protest against the annexation of land by the nearby settlements take place.


YOUNES ARAR, NATIONAL POPULAR RESISTANCE COMMITTEE: So this land belongs to Beit Ummar farmers. It was built in 1984. The land was stolen from the Palestinians, it was confiscated, and they decided to build a settlement in the middle of a Palestinian surrounding and neighborhoods. We heard what Obama has been saying since he has been elected into presidency, and he’s repeating the same poem. He’s not executing what he’s promising. He’s just–.

UNIDENTIFIED: What is he promising?

ARAR: He promised for a two-state solution, living side by side in security and stability, etc., etc., and the Palestinians will make their own independent state on all the land occupied in 1967.


TARACHANSKY: The Real News also spoke to Palestinian small business owners on the streets of Bethlehem.

JOHN SHAHEN, SOUVENIR SHOP OWNER: It is for some reasons he make this push, one of it for new elections. So most of the American [incompr.] election [incompr.] Second, to please the weapon companies and oil companies, the capitalist companies who control United States in America by making new deals with Libya and other Arab countries.

ARAR: While under the claim of protecting civil rights in Libya, he was ready to move the troops to bomb Libya for democracy, while Israel is killing Palestinians all the time, stealing their land, building settlements, doing this and that, and he is not doing anything. So where’s democracy, where’s justice in that?

DR. NABIL EDALY, PHARMACIST (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Honestly, what came out of his speech was an affirmation of a Palestinian state within the ’67 borders, which made us really happy to hear. But the American administration always goes back on its word. Be mindful that oppression does not last forever. America and Israel … what is happening in the Arab world now is against America’s long-term interests. The people have started to breathe, to demolish, and to spring. So why should it be us that remain oppressed? It won’t last.

UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think what he said was that Israel is the first priority. He didn’t say anything new. Fine, he mentioned the ’67 borders, but with some changes. So meaning is found between the lines: “recognition with some changes”. What changes? We reject any alteration. President Obama, in my opinion, he can’t do anything with regards to the Zionist movement, not even take a step, neither with regards to Palestine, nor the entire Middle East.

TARACHANSKY: The official Israeli response to Obama’s speech was Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both houses of Congress. Among other things, those commitments relayed to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines. We also spoke to Israeli small business owners on the streets of Tel Aviv.


DUDI, TEXTILE SHOP OWNER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think it’s awful for Israel. Obama is really wrong. We cannot return them all those territories. We can reach a peaceful agreement by first of all trying at first something small, not everything, and it must be demilitarized. I support peace, I support making that experiment, but not a suicidal experiment.

TARACHANSKY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Why do you think it’s a suicidal attempt?

DUDI: Because if we give them all the territories, and a situation like Gaza will result, will we have to bomb their citizens, their children [in the West Bank]?


TARACHANSKY (ENGLISH): Why do you think the media concentrated on the seeming rift between Obama and Netanyahu?

DIMI REIDER, JOURNALIST, +972 MAGAZINE: I think, first of all, because otherwise there wouldn’t be much to report, and second of all because Netanyahu chose to accentuate that. I think Netanyahu right now is in a position where he needs to choose between two–he needs to choose whom he’s going to make more angry. He can choose to make his coalition partners angry, or he can choose to make the administration angry. Now, if he makes the administration angry, they can’t really do anything. I mean, Obama is heading to a–he’s already started his campaign for reelection. He has a hostile Congress to whom [incompr.] supposed to speak. He has the AIPAC conference. He’s not going to really go out against Netanyahu, whereas any kind of mistake Netanyahu makes will be pounced upon by his coalition partners back home.


ETTY DAVID, STORE MANAGER, DENISE FASHION (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I really don’t think so. Maybe there was an ego struggle, but it’s not a diplomatic incident and there won’t be one. The Americans need us. Maybe it looks that way to the outside, the TV, to the world. . . . I don’t believe it will be a problem.

TARACHANSKY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): So what do you think about Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s speech?

DAVID: He proved to the Palestinians once again that he knows what’s best for us. And if they want peace, it must be on the terms he outlined. They must accept these conditions as they are.


YUVAL HALEVI, EDUCATION WORKER WITH AT-RISK YOUTH (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think [Netanyahu’s] response was harsh with the intention of raising political support in Israel and it had nothing to do with the peace process. It’s hard to understand how so much noise was made about all this. These are well-known, obvious things that if serious negotiators come, these are obviously the things they’ll negotiate about.

TARACHANSKY (ENGLISH): On Sunday, President Obama spoke to AIPAC, the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, known as Israel’s biggest and strongest lobby group.

OBAMA: And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps means. By definition it means that the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians, will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

REIDER: It created a weird kind of, like, almost [incompr.] situation. You know, Obama didn’t really change his message, but he scored some points with AIPAC. AIPAC scored some points for themselves. Obama scored a lot of points with AIPAC. Everybody’s happy–except the Palestinians, of course. But it’s been a long time since anybody took anything they want into consideration.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Younes Arar is the Coordinator of the National Committee for Resisting the annexation wall and settlement in Bait Ummar. Arar is also the Executive Manager of The Center for Freedom and Justice.

Dmitry (Dimi) Reider is a journalist and photographer working from Israel and the Palestinian territories. His work had appeared in the Guardian, Foreign Policy, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, and Index on Censorship. He writes a popular blog, entitled Dimi's Notes