I did not have a chance to watch Obama's speech just now, but I did read through this transcript. It's a tough speech. Pretty blunt. I wouldn't quite say a Hail Mary, because it isn't the fourth quarter, but let's just dispense with the football metaphors and call it a high-risk-seeking-high-reward gambit to ignite the peace process.
This was the toughest graf aimed at the Israelis:
But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
I didn't watch it, as I said, so I don't really know how it was received, and it's a bit early to read lots of reaction. But I think the above is fairly stern.
Unfortunately I don't think he said enough in this speech about Palestinian intransigence. Here is where he acknowledged it:
Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.
The way you persuade people to change their minds about something is to communicate to them that you understand where they're sitting emotionally. He needed another sentence or two before that "but" to do that, I think. When you ask people to see something through another's eyes, you ought to also communicate to them that you can see it through their eyes.
Now in fairness, at his previous appearance with Abbas, Obama had some tough words for the Palestinians:
I would point out that all this stands in stark contrast to the misery and repression that so many Palestinians continue to confront in Gaza — because Hamas refuses to renounce violence; because Hamas cares more about enforcing its own rigid dogmas than allowing Palestinians to live freely; and because too often it focuses on tearing Israel down rather than building Palestine up. We saw the continuing threat from Gaza again overnight, with the rockets that targeted Sderot. We condemn this violation of the important cease-fire that protects both Israelis and Palestinians — a violation that Hamas has a responsibility to prevent.
I will say, with respect to Israel, that the politics there are complex and I recognize that that’s not an issue that’s going to be solved immediately. It’s not going to be solved overnight.
On the other hand, what I shared with President Abbas and I will share with the Palestinian people is that if the expectation is, is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there’s no point for negotiations.
So he had some fairly tough talk for the Palestinians, too. An AP story I read suggested that he had infuriated Palestinians. Who knows. You can't win over there.
But overall I suspect this speech, simply because it was more blunt than an American president usually is, will at least kick-start the talk about the peace process. Whether it will do any more than that, well, step forward, Secretary Kerry.