(by Laura Meckler, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) NEW YORK—President Barack Obama set out early in his presidency to repair a tattered U.S. relationship with the Muslim world and rekindle the Middle East peace process.

Two years later, he has achieved neither. Instead, the problems he hoped to solve have now cost him points with Israelis, Palestinians and American voters alike as a painful confrontation unfolds this week at the United Nations.

U.S. officials scrambled Tuesday to head off a showdown before the U.N. Security Council, where the Palestinians have said they will seek to gain membership within the U.N. The White House repeated its promise to veto the measure, but worked desperately to avoid the need to do so.

In an address on Wednesday to the U.N. General Assembly, where the vast majority of nations* support the Palestinian cause [*NOTE: 33% of the U.N.’s member states are Muslim countries], the president will explain why the U.S. supports creation of a Palestinian state, but through negotiations, not U.N. fiat [order].

For the U.S., which has promoted democracy movements throughout the region, it is an uncomfortable position. Much of [President] Obama’s U.N. address will celebrate the momentum for democracy that has built over the last year around the globe, including across the Arab world.

[The President] faces domestic as well as international pressure. His repeated efforts to push Israel for concessions failed to advance the peace process while antagonizing some Jewish voters at home and giving Republicans an opening for attack.

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, championed Israel, calling the Palestinians’ U.N. move an “ominous act of bad faith” and blamed Mr. Obama for bringing it about by pushing Israel too hard.  Gov. Perry asserted on Wednesday that President Obama’s “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous” foreign policy has brought Israel and the Palestinians to a crisis over Palestinian statehood.

Last week, polling found that Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy contributed to a Democratic loss in a special election for a vacant House seat in a heavily [Democratic and] Jewish district that includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

The Obama re-election campaign is worried enough about Jewish support that it has formed a high-level group of Jewish officials and backers to combat what they see as misperceptions about his record.

White House officials assert that the U.S. has been Israel’s strongest backer at the U.N., repeatedly vetoing anti-Israel resolutions and threatening another veto if Palestinians seek U.N. membership this week.

“This administration could not have been a stronger friend to Israel here,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national-security adviser for strategic communications at the White House.

Still, the White House has said uncritical support for Israel won’t break the stalemate with the Palestinians, and the president has repeatedly and publicly urged the Israelis to make concessions.

In 2009, he called for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, territory that Palestinians claim for their future state. This past spring, he said the two states’ final borders should be based roughly on the 1967 lines.

Israelis view both points as concessions that should be considered only during negotiations.

Mr. Obama’s approach appears to have won him little credit with the Palestinians either. In the face of deep U.S. opposition and a clear veto threat, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will ask the U.N. Security Council to recognize Palestine as a state.

In recent days, the U.S. has tried to get the parties to return to direct negotiations instead, without success.

Palestinians say Mr. Obama himself raised their expectations a year ago, when he delivered an optimistic speech to the U.N. General Assembly that there could be real progress. “We can say this time will be different,” Mr. Obama said then, nodding to decades of stalemate.

…Jon Alterman, an expert in the region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, [says that] “The president’s actions have gotten him anger on all sides and gratitude on none. Israelis feel the president dislikes them. The Palestinians feel the president has gotten rolled by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and has not been able to protect their interests.”

The Arab spring movement didn’t enhance the U.S. image in the region, either, Mr. Alterman added. Governments were disappointed that the U.S. didn’t stand by its allies, and the dissidents were angry that the U.S. didn’t do more to support political change.

In a 2009 speech in Cairo, Mr. Obama set out to create a “new beginning” in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Key to that reset, he explained in the speech, was progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In the interim, opinions of the U.S. and confidence in Mr. Obama have fallen in many Muslim nations. In Jordan, 25% of people had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2009; in 2011, that had fallen to 13%, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. Ratings also fell in Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan.

Mr. Rhodes, who wrote Mr. Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, acknowledges that U.S. standing in the Arab world has sagged.

“The principal challenge has been the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” he said “I think there’s no question that there is great frustration at the lack of progress.”

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com.


1. a) What was President Obama’s aim for Middle East policy when he first took office?
b) What has been the result thus far of the President’s attempts in this area? Be specific.

2. a) What are the Palestinians planning on doing at the annual United Nations meeting this week?
b) How is the Obama administration responding to this plan?

3. What do Israelis think of President Obama’s call for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and his declaration that the two states’ final borders should be based roughly on the 1967 lines?

4. How has the White House defended itself against the perception that the administration is not supportive of Israel?

5. How are the Palestinians responding to the President’s request that they refrain from asking the U.N. to recognize Palestine as a state, and that they return to direct peace negotiations with Israel instead?


The Palestinian Status at the United Nations:

  • The Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] was granted observer status at the U.N. on November 22, 1974.
  • Acknowledging the proclamation of the State of Palestine by the Palestine National Council on November 15, 1988, the United Nations General Assembly decided that, effective as of December 15, 1988, the designation “Palestine” should be used in place of the designation “Palestine Liberation Organization” in the United Nations System.
  • The current status of Palestine in the UN is a “non-member entity”.
  • The Palestinian territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel [after the 6 Day War of 1967] with parts of them governed by the Palestinian National Authority, are referred to by the UN as “Occupied Palestinian Territory”.
  • In 2011, the Palestinian National Authority garnered support for a membership vote on September 23. The bid has received support from several member states and the Arab League. (from wikipedia)

More than 120 of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly support the Palestinians bid for statehood.  [56 of these members are Muslim countries.]. Members of the UN Security Council likely to support Palestinian statehood include Russia, South Africa, China, Brazil, India, Nigeria, and Lebanon. (from cfr.org)


Read about the 1967 Six Day War at: sixdaywar.org.

Watch an explanation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict below:

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