During his long-anticipated speech to the State Department on Thursday, US President Barack Obama repeated a statement made by his predecessor, George W. Bush, that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and a contiguous state.The policy objectives of the US toward the region did not shift in his speech on Thursday, and President Obama reiterated the US government’s support for Israel and Israeli security, saying “Our commitment to Israel is unshakeable. Israel, too, must act boldly to achieve a lasting peace.”
In his speech, Obama said, “The US believes that negotiations should result in two states with Palestinian borders with Egypt, Jordan and Israel, and Israeli borders with Palestine. The Palestinian people have a right to self-determination in a contiguous state.
He added, “The Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state, and the Israelis should know that their security concerns will be addressed.”
In his speech, Obama emphasized certain points that have been US policy for years, without indicating any changes: that Palestinian leaders should return to the negotiating table with no expectation that their key demands will be addressed, but should nevertheless be prepared to make concessions and accept the agreement that is laid out by the US and Israel during the negotiations.
The key Palestinian demands, which have not changed in the course of peace negotiations over the past 18 years, are that Palestine should be a contiguous state with Jerusalem as its capital, that Palestinian refugees should be allowed their internationally-recognized right of return to their homes in what is now Israel, and that the over 8,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel be released.
Obama told the Palestinians during his speech that the refugee issue will not be resolved in negotiations, and that any future Palestinian state must be de-militarized. In an apparent contradiction, President Obama also stated during his speech that all states have the right to self defense through military means. But he cushioned this assertion with a statement that Israel’s security is the primary US concern in the region.