Writers for the Economist argue that President Obama will have a difficult time trying to convince Palestinians that they should direct their arguments and conduct negotiations for statehood through Washington as opposed to through the United Nations in September.
For would-be Palestinian negotiators, there was much in Barack Obama's speech on the Middle East to applaud. For the first time an American president has articulated his country's commitment to two states based on the 1967 borders. He also called for a "full and phased withdrawal of military forces"—ruling out a permanent military presence, though leaving open the possibility of a long-term interim one. He said a Palestinian state would border Jordan, thereby quashing any lingering Israeli demands that Israel retain a buffer in the Jordan Valley. To Israel's chagrin he also proposed that the parties first resolve their security arrangements and define their borders, before tackling what he called "wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees". Israeli officials have long preferred that nothing should be resolved until everything was resolved. "We're pleased," says a Palestinian negotiator, who had days earlier been told that Mr Obama's speech would make only scant reference to Israel.
There were, of course, some discomforting passages for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. Mr Obama scoffed at his plan to secure recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations, warning him that it would be simply "symbolic". He made it clear that he would not again seek an Israeli settlement freeze as a precondition for kick-starting negotiations. He recognised Israel as a Jewish state, rather than one of all its citizens, Arab and Jewish alike. But the Palestinians have heard all this before.
There was as much delight in what Mr Obama did not say. His failure to mention his meeting in Washington next week with Binyamin Netanyahu was seen by Palestinians as a snub to the Israeli prime minister. He abandoned his predecessor's commitment to allowing Israel to keep its West Bank settlement "blocks"; instead he said land swaps should be mutually agreed. And he pointedly dropped any reference to the three conditions (the abrogation of violence, recognition of Israel, and respect of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements) that America and its fellow Quartet members had set out five years ago for Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, as a price for engagement. Instead he said merely that Hamas's non-recognition of Israel raised questions. In short, says an intrigued international official in Jerusalem, this is the most pro-Palestinian speech ever by an American president.