A Quick Read of Arab Reactions to Obama’s Speech: in English and Arabic

by Gedalyah Reback

Originally Posted on New Voices

Scanning the headlines from Barack Obama’s speech about the Middle East, it is compelling the way different newspapers and online sources decided to interpret his words. You don’t need to read the Arabic to see Arab papers are putting words in Barack Obama’s mouth.

Thus far, there is no wide division in the analysis. Barack Obama’s words were crisp, no matter how flexible the policy he expressed with them was; that is, they are hard to misinterpret. At the same time, he left the United States’ options open. He did not demand much, much less promise anything. But he said Palestine should be demilitarized.

He also said this, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

Israeli governments usually avoid mentioning the 1967 borders, even more the idea of a “swap.” No Prime Minister wants to 1) commit himself to equally trading land with the Palestinians that’d be politically difficult to provide, and 2) promising that 1967 would serve as a reference point for anything, and 3) create an expectation that Jerusalem would be divided in a certain way (or the Golan Heights for that matter).

Nonetheless, Arab headlines are cherry-picking. The headlines and the images they are posting speak to what Arab writers either want to hear or are trying to impose into Barack Obama’s words. Check out the following English and Arabic samplings. The Arabic headlines are translated next to the originals:

The Arab headlines tend to project Obama’s words as direct and above interpretation. The articles, in English and Arabic, do more justice to the content of the speech. But the theme is relatively consistent: Arabs like the terminology “1967 Borders.” That implies “Jerusalem” for Arab politicos. It is only when you get into the articles that the fact cannot be hidden Barack Obama was much more ambiguous: “based on the 1967 Borders.”

Al-Jazeera (ENGLISH)Obama seeks Palestine state on 1967 borders

Al-Jazeera (ARABIC) ِأُوبَامَا يَشْرَحُ الْرُّؤِيَّةً الْأَمِيرَكِيَّةَ لِلْتَغْيِيرِ بِالْمِنْطَقَة (‘Obama Explains the American Outlook toward the Change in the Region’)
As of 1:56AM Israel time, the Arabic version of the site seems to be digesting all the topics with equal weight.

The Daily Star (Lebanon – ENGLISH): Obama tells Israel: Go back to 1967 borders
“Obama’s urging that a Palestinian state be based on 1967 borders, those that existed before the Six-Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, marked a significant shift in U.S. policy and seemed certain to anger Israel.”

But in addition to these things, the Daily Star emphasized the pressure on the Palestinian Authority from the Obama speech to 1) “provide a credible answer” to the question of how they plan to pursue peace with Israel while Hamas refuses to recognize its rights and 2) rejected the PA’s attempt for recognition at the United Nations.

Arab News (Saudi Arabia – ENGLISH): Palestine should have ’67 border: Obama

لاقدس – (Al-Quds [Palestinian]): “ِاُوبَامَا يَدْعُو لِقِيَامِ دَوْلَةٍ فَلَسْطِينِيَّةٍ ضَمِنَ حُدُودِ 1967 وَ”مَنْزُوعَةِ الْسَّلَاح” (‘Obama Calls for Establishment of Palestinian State ~in relation to/in the context of~ the 1967 Borders and “Demilitarized”‘)
The order of wording in the headline is awkward translated directly into English. It would be better said “Obama Calls for Establishment of Demilitarized Palestinian State in relation to the 1967 Borders.” But the paper chose to emphasize the fact he said “demilitarized.” The paper is mincing words and looking for a quarrel. The Arabic headline does not seem to feel any need to embellish on the meaning of Obama’s words. They are more accurate to use the preposition “,” which can be interpreted variously as “in relation to,” “in the context of,” “within,” and of course “on the basis of.”

الْمَصْرِي الْيَوْم – (The Daily Egyptian): نَتَنْيَاهُو يَرُدُّ عَلَى أُوبَامَا: إِقَامَةٌ دَوْلَةٍ فلسطينيةٍ لَا يُمْكِنُ أَنْ تَأْتِي عَلَى حِسَابِ إِسْرَائِيل (‘Netanyahu Responds to Obama: Establishment of Palestinian State won’t come at the Expense of Israel’)
The Egyptian Paper actually had this had a lower rung of the current-events latter. Egypt has its own issues to cover. But the image they chose to publish is much more telling:

Egypt is notorious for its anti-Semitic newspaper articles and political cartoons. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are frequently drawn to represent Israelis. The unflattering grimaces on the front faces in the pic, plus the interpretively-smug expression on Netanyahu’s demonstrate how the paper is trying to frame his persona. Now compare that to the pictures of Obama.

Arab reactions in English are positive: they are making Obama’s words look sharp toward Israel. In Arabic, things are less accommodating. That type of mix is not going to be enough to advance the peace process.

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