Obama delivering speech today at the State Department on Middle East and North Africa policy (White House photo)
JERUSALEM – In a major Middle East policy speech today, President Obama compared an Israeli who died in a Hamas terrorist attack that targeted civilians to three Palestinian girls killed in an Israeli anti-terror operation in which Hamas had reportedly shot at Israeli forces from near the girls’ home, drawing return fire.
Obama used the address to call for Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders, meaning a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem while allowing for some territorial swaps.
In his address, Obama supported the Arab revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa and called for the ouster of dictators and transitions to democracy.
About one third of Obama’s speech focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At one point, Obama provided two examples of families who “would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past,” drawing a moral equivalence between Palestinian terror and Israeli self defense.
Stated Obama: “We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. …
“We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. ‘I have the right to feel angry,’ he said. ‘So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,’ he said, ‘for tomorrow.'”
Obama was referencing a January 2009 Israel Defense Forces operation in which three daughters of a Gazan doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, were killed when a shell struck their home.
The IDF said an investigation had shown that soldiers were returning fire in the direction of areas from which they had been fired upon. Hamas routinely uses civilians as human shields while drawing Israeli forces into urban combat situations.
“The Israel Defense Forces does not target innocents or civilians, and during the operation the army has been fighting an enemy that does not hesitate to fire from within civilian targets,” said an IDF spokesman at the time.
Israel had entered Gaza in an incursion that December and January after Hamas refused to extend a cease-fire, instead launching a large number of rockets from Gaza aimed at nearby Jewish civilian population zones.
The Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, as referenced by Obama, was Yitzhak Frankenthal, the founder of a far-left Israeli group that blames Israeli “occupation” for Palestinian terrorism.
Frankenthal’s son, Arik, was 19 years old when he was shot in a drive-by Hamas terror attack in July 1994.
In his speech, Obama called for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines “with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
“The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state,” he said.
Obama indicated the U.S. would continue to press for Israeli-Palestinian talks even though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently entered a unity government with Hamas.
Obama spoke about the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian government, but still urged Israel to make a deal.
Hamas, whose charter calls for the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel, is listed by the State Department as a terror group.
Stated Obama: “The recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?
“And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.”
Obama also used his speech to hail the Arab uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
He argued a “new chapter in American diplomacy” has been turned after the Arab revolutions.
He said the policy of the U.S. will be to promote reform across the Middle East and to support what he called “transitions to democracy.”