Listen to the President

Posted on September 13, 2010 In Blog

The New York Times and Washington Post each carried stories in their editions this past Saturday that reported on President Obama’s remarks, at his Friday evening press conference, about the re-started Israeli-Arab peace talks.

In typical fashion, the Times’ Helene Cooper set the story as Obama again pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu; WaPo’s Kessler similarly fell into the narrative of all the onus being upon Israel.

But if you listened to the President’s statement as a whole (or, if because you were observing Rosh Hashana and Shabbat) you caught up with it today, you get a different and more complex picture of Mr. Obama’s statement – as JTA’s Ron Kampeas lays out:

First, the question from the New York Times’ Helene Cooper, which hews to an unfortunate Beltway mindset that holds Israel as the only responsible party in the conflict:

And on the Middle East, do you believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should extend the settlement moratorium as a gesture to peace? And if he doesn’t, what are you prepared to do to stop the Palestinians from walking?
Now here’s Obama. I’ve made Obama’s evident sarcasm bold:

Now, with respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Middle East, a major bone of contention during the course of this month is going to be the potential lapse of the settlement moratorium. The irony is, is that when Prime Minister Netanyahu put the moratorium in place, the Palestinians were very skeptical. They said this doesn’t do anything. And it turns out, to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s credit and to the Israeli government’s credit, the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region. And that’s why now the Palestinians say, you know what, even though we weren’t that keen on it at first or we thought it was just window dressing, it turns out that this is important to us. What I’ve said to Prime Minister Netanyahu is that, given, so far, the talks are moving forward in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend that moratorium so long as the talks are moving in a constructive way.

Posted by Nathan Diament