Discussing Obama's Middle East speech: How will Israel and the Arab world react?

May 20, 2011

Washington Post foreign correspondent Liz Sly as she discussed President Obama's speech Thursday on the Middle East, how it impacts Israel and how the Arab world is reacting to it.

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Hi, I'm Liz Sly with the Washington Post in Beirut, and I've been monitoring Arab reactions to Obama's speech on the Middle East 

Lots of worry about Hamas and Fatah, but is it possible that we could get a real peace deal now? What are the factors to consider?

I'm not sure we're any closer to a real deal. The response of the Israelis has not been positive, and Obama also seemed to make it clear that the Palestinians themselves would have to figure out what to do about Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist before we can move forward.

I read in today's WashPost article that the people overseas just don't really care about his speech.  Is that true? Are you overseas right now?

Yes, I am in Beirut. It's true that a lot of ordinary people aren't really interested in what America has to say right now, and I think that's one of the things that's been so interesting about the Arab Spring. It is a new development in the Middle East that is taking place regardless of America's interests, and we've really seen the US pushed to the sidelines

The only major movement in recent weeks has been the pact Hamas signed with Fatah. This agreement has either been outright condemned or on the more positive side highly question. Obama's response appears to be to change the wording and applying more pressure to Israel. Why will the Palestinians ever be encouraged to be an honest partner, Obama appears willing to do all their work for them.

I'm not sure how a peace settlement could be reached if the Palestinians were not united, and also Obama did seem to indicate that he expected them to sort out the question of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist before there could be any movement.

The reaction so far seems to be less than enthusiastic. Both sides it seems, have adopted a "all or nothing" attitude with neither the Isrealis or Palestinians willing to concede anything. I'm less than optimistic that this issue will ever be resolved and am growing increasingly more frustrated as this problem continues to hold the rest of the world hostage. Do you think this issue can ever really be resolved with both sides being contented enough that the fighting and hatred stops?

I'm afraid I do share your pessimism. It does seem to be never ending. It may take a generation or more before either side can set it all aside and sit down to genuinely talk peace. But I do think there's hope; I watched the transition to democracy in South Africa and that once seemed impossible too. The Middle East needs a Mandela and a De Klerk

What kind of role do you see the U.S. playing in the Mid East now that Osama is dead?

Such was the irrelevance of Osama Bin Laden to most people in the Middle East at the time of his death that I don't think it will really affect the US role all that much. A far bigger impact will come from the fallout of all the uprisings we have been seeing, and there I think we've really started to see how America's role in the Middle East has been waning. I think Obama's speech was an effort to restore America's relevance, but I'm not sure he succeeded

You do realize how absurd your quote sounds about Hamas. Obama wants to impose boarders on Israel, but doesn't make not randomly killing innocents Israeli a precondition for Palestinian talks. Was this not a precondition under every other president as well as a condition in the Quartet? This is a substantial change.

Yes, it is a substantial change for the US, but I'm not sure it will lead to immediate progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians

How are times different under Bush than Obama as far as our foreign policy with the Middle East?

I think attitudes toward America have improved significantly under Obama. I think that is part of the reason why Osama Bin Laden had dropped so far off everyone's radar screen. There was a perception that Bush was hostile to Muslims, hostile to Arabs and had designs on Arab lands. No such perception exists with Obama, who is generally viewed as more benign. That said however, people are very disappointed that he has not been able to deliver on his promises to get the peace process going in earnest

How long have you been covering the Middle East?

Aproximately 3 decades, with a break of 12 years between 1991 and 2003

The Post's main headline the other day was Obama increases pressure on Israel. Even if Israel came back to the table, how on earth do you negotiate with a group whose charter says they want all of your citizens dead. Hamas is sworn not to going back to 1967, but to getting back all of Israel.

Indeed, that is one major obstacle to peace! But I have a feeling we may see some flexibility emerge in the Hamas position at some point in the future

Hi Liz . Do you have an answer to this question of me and my friends? Who is employed in the building of the Israeli settlement in the West Bank? Are all the contractors Israeli? Are all the laborers Israeli ? Thank you for considering my question.

I'm sorry, I don't cover Israel, I live in Beirut. I really don't know much about Israel, we have a Jerusalem correspondent who covers there

Ok, thanks for the questions, I'm have to go and write the Syria story for tomorrow's paper

In This Chat
Liz Sly
Liz Sly, the Post's Baghdad bureau chief, has spent more than two decades as a foreign correspondent, with postings in Africa, China, Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East. She joined the Post in 2010, after working in Iraq since 2003 for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.
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