In Cairo, President Obama told (was it for the 100th time?) the story of his African father and American mother. This story has worked well for him in the American context, and he seems to believe that it will beguile the rest of the world as well. We shall see whether this experiment with autobiography as foreign policy has purchase.
But while some of his appeal to Muslims for common ground was certainly benign, there were aspects of the speech that may create more problems than they solve.
Obama has signaled to the Arab world that his administration is willing to pressure Israel about settlements in the West Bank. Asked before his Middle East trip about relations with Israel, President Obama told National Public Radio, "Part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative..." (Whenever someone starts a sentence by advising that "good friends tell each other the truth," duck.) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spelled out the president's policy bluntly: "He wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions."
President Obama presumably wants Israel to uproot the 300,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. This is the "solution" to the Palestinian question that has been endorsed, formally and informally, by the last three presidents and most of the foreign ministries in the world. It has even been endorsed by many Israelis, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who offered 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza to Yasser Arafat.
The idea of handing over the West Bank to the Palestinians lost favor in Israel after Gaza was evacuated (at considerable pain) in 2005 because the area became a launching pad for missiles aimed at the Israeli heartland. But President Obama has a solution to that. It's nothing much -- just the wholesale reversal of Palestinian political culture.
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