Capitol Hill on Obama speech: Cantor and Lieberman pan, Berman praises


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Leader:

Today, the President outlined his hopes for Mideast peace – a goal that we all share – but failed to articulate a serious plan for achieving this goal. This approach undermines our special relationship with Israel and weakens our ally’s ability to defend itself. The President’s habit of drawing a moral equivalence between the actions of the Palestinians and the Israelis while assessing blame for the conflict is, in and of itself, harmful to the prospect for peace. In reality, Israel – since its creation – has always proven willing to make the sacrifices necessary for peace, while the Palestinians on numerous occasions have rejected those offers.

This conflict is not about land or Israel’s neighborhoods beyond the Green Line. Three wars were launched against Israel prior to its establishment of new borders in 1967. By keeping the burden and thus the spotlight on Israel, the President is only giving the Palestinian Authority more incentive to carry on its unhelpful game of sidestepping negotiations and failing to put an end to terrorism. Creating another Palestinian terror state on Israel’s borders is something that none of us want. The White House referred to today’s speech as a ‘Moment of Opportunity,’ and I’m disappointed that the President’s remarks missed both the moment and the opportunity.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

President Obama’s speech is an eloquent and inspiring affirmation of American values as applied to the movements for sweeping transformation of the Middle East. In particular, he has given Syrian President Asad a stark choice, reform or go. Now we must find an effective way to press President Asad to make that choice.

The peace process dimension of the speech puts the ball squarely in the Palestinian court. The Palestinians must resolve their Hamas problem once and for all: either jettison Hamas or do the seemingly impossible and change them into a respectable, anti-violence organization that recognizes Israel and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements as the basis for going forward.

It has been my expectation for many years, dating to the end of the Clinton Administration, that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve a border that is close to that of 1967 but with agreed upon land swaps. That is fully consistent with Israel’s right to have defensible borders and to retain its settlement blocs, positions for which there is overwhelming support in Washington. It is critical as we go forward, however, that we consult closely with both parties but especially with our friend and ally Israel, starting with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trip this week. Without such close consultation, no formulation we propose will be successful. …

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.):

President Obama delivered an eloquent and important speech yesterday that rightly aligned the United States with the winds of democratic change that are blowing across the Middle East….

I am also grateful that the President at last spoke out about the campaign of murder and repression by Bashar al Assad in Syria. This was the first time the President personally addressed the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria since the uprising there began nearly two months ago. I hope the President in the days ahead continues to speak out about Syria and makes clear that it is time for Assad to go. I regret that he did not seize the opportunity to do so yesterday.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s important and constructive speech embracing and supporting the peaceful, democratic revolutions in the Arab world was also undermined by an unhelpful and surprising set of remarks about Israel and the Palestinians that will not advance the peace process and in fact is likely to set it back. …

More responses:

Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also issued a statement that was somewhat critical of the portions of the speech dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

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