In his first State of the Union address in his second term, US President Barack Obama laid down the plans for his legacy years — but reaching a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and Palestine will not be on his foreign policy agenda.
Obama’s speech was that of a president preoccupied with reviving a moribund economy, increasing the basic wage for full-time workers, getting legislation through a divided Congress and being able to put reasonable limits on America’s gun culture. For immigrants living in the shadows of illegality, it offered hope that they would become free and equal members of US society.
But in all of the words, the standing ovations, the platitudes and the rhetoric, Obama neither uttered the word “Palestine” nor the word “Palestinians” even once. It shows how far off the radar this pressing issue has fallen for the president of the US. In his political judgement, there is no need for his administration to become embroiled in an arm of foreign policy where he feels there is little prospect of success or realistic hope of enduring peace.
However, Obama did utter the word “Israel” — if only briefly — saying he and his administration would stand steadfast with the Jewish state in pursuit of peace and lasting security. What we have learnt is that Obama is committed to winding down the US military presence in Afghanistan, committing to bringing home 66,000 troops and wrapping up the mission by the end of 2014.
Obama is more committed than ever to enforcing security through drone operations — going to great pains in his address to note that the US had developed a legal framework to allow for the continued and intensified drone campaign against militants in the border areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.
And Iran is very much on the Oval Office radar, with Obama urging Tehran to sit down and talk about its nuclear programme. He also added the rider that the US “would do whatever is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon”.
At least, we know now how little to expect.