President Obama seems to have unified Muslims and Israelis with his speech about the new Middle East Thursday. Leading voices on all sides panned the address.
Following a White House meeting Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the president's call for a peace agreement with Palestinians based on 1967 borders with land swaps, saying it leaves Israel vulnerable to attack. And he rejected any notion of an agreement granting Palestinian refugees a right to return to Israel, demographically swamping the Jewish state.
"It's not going to happen. Everybody knows it's not going to happen," Netanyahu said. "And I think it's time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly that it's not going to happen."
Obama's speech was also rejected in large sections of the Muslim Middle East, from individuals to governments.
Robert Tait, writing for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, explained that the much-touted speech "went down like a lead balloon in Egypt's capital." Joe Hammond, another correspondent for RFE/RL in Cairo, "described the mood on the streets as a mixture of ignorance and apathy. In contrast to the 2009 address, which was closely followed, many Egyptians were not even aware Obama had made a speech. Others, mindful of U.S. indecision in the early stages of the anti-Mubarak protests dismissed it as a 'Johnny come lately' speech."
While the VOA's Meredith Buel called the speech "effective in aligning American policy with the sweeping changes in the region," Arab newspapers show mixed reviews.
"All this familiar talk we have heard on the lips of more than one U.S. official, but the question is about the practical steps to turn it into actions on the ground," noted Adel Bari Atwan, writing for the popular London-based paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. "We heard stuff like this two years ago in [Obama's] first speech at Cairo University … what were the results? … Full retreat on all these promises, the adoption of all Israeli demands, and failure to convince his allies, the Israelis, to freeze settlement activity for only two months."
Leading Egyptian daily Al-Ahram published a cartoon showing President Obama trying to give a lesson about the importance of new Middle East, but his hand points to a fractured Middle East and globe.
America's Turkish allies also weren't pleased by Obama's remarks on Israel, calling for him to adopt a "more principled attitude" to Palestinian statehood. "They should not refrain from giving support to Palestinian reconciliation due to Israel's unnecessary reservations," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in an interview Friday with the CNNTürk news channel.
The reactions of those condemned by President Obama were predictable.
"Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection," Obama said. The group responded in kind on its new Arabic website, expressing its "disapproval and condemnation" of the president's comments, which were "grossly biased towards the Zionist occupation at the expense of Palestinian national rights." They also stated that America's approach was "devoid of any new approach concerning the Palestinian issue," which "demonstrates the credibility of the group's [Hamas'] position."