Aluf Benn’s New York Times piece urging President Obama to make a speech directly to Israelis is generating talk around the Web. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg spoke to two administration officials who think Benn "doesn’t understand what the president is trying to do."
These two senior officials — sorry, those were the ground rules — made the plausible argument that the Cairo speech was, in fact, directed at Israelis as much as it was directed at Arabs. "The President went before a Cairo audience in a speech co-sponsored by Al-Azhar with Muslim Brotherhood members in the audience and spoke of America’s strong, unshakable support for Israel," one of the officials said. "He could have gone to a million different venues to say this, but he went to Cairo, and it wasn’t exactly an applause line. Isn’t it more important to say this to the Muslim world than it is to say it to an audience of Israelis or American Jews?"
These two officials pointed out something that I forgot about the speech, which is that it contained strong condemnations of the cynical Arab ploy to use the Palestinian issue as a diversion (in other words, to keep the focus of unhappy Arabs on Israel and not on the weaknesses of their own anti-democratic, corrupt governments), and of course it contained an unequivocal denunciation of terrorism committed in the name of resistance.
The officials didn’t indicate Obama was thinking about a trip to Israel, but Goldberg thinks it would be a good idea:
I asked these two officials when Obama might visit Israel, or at least speak at length about his positive vision for a secure Israel, but they were non-committal, but I’m obviously hoping that this happens soon. Otherwise, the forces that seek to exploit the growing unease in some Jewish quarters with Obama in order to advance their own pro-settlement — or pro-recalcitrance — agendas will only be strengthened.
Meanwhile, Joe Klein of Time Magazine hears that Obama "is already planning to make this sort of effort–Israeli television interviews etc.–in the coming weeks." Klein also thinks it would be a smart move:
If you believe Obama’s policy is the right one, as I do, the latest public opinion surveys from Israel are disappointing–but not insurmountable. Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public. He also needs some front-end concessions from the Arab states who will benefit from a Middle East peace deal, starting with Saudi Arabia. Given the recent events in Iran, the election results in Lebanon, Syria’s renewed cooperation and a softer tone from Hamas (and the cessation of missiles fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians), this is a promising moment. But progress will only be made if Israelis understand that a settlement freeze (and, ultimately, a retrenchment) and the peace process that follows are in their long-term best interests. The President needs to address that, especially since Benjamin Netanyahu won’t.
UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post’s Shmuel Rosner has some poll numbers demonstrating that the popularity of Obama and the United States has taken a hit in Israel since the Cairo speech