Mr Obama goes to Cairo
Before the speech was made the Washington Post ran a good article assessing the views of Obama's principle target audience, the people of the Middle East. The report found a chasm between the way American policymakers saw US actions in that region and the lived experience of the people most affected. On his blog, Time editor Tony Karon stressed that given this, it would take concrete actions, more than nice words, for Obama to salvage Washington's reputation in the Middle East.
After the speech, reaction was mixed. The best and most comprehensive analysis comes from Noam Chomsky, who notes beneath the rhetoric substantive continuities between Obama's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (perhaps the central topic of the speech) and that of previous administrations. Egyptian commentator Ahdaf Soueif also saw the continuation of America's pursuit of its own narrow interests, despite the change in tone. On the other hand (though I don't think this necessarily contradicts Chomsky and Soueif's interpretations) Tony Karon, who before the speech had been clear on the importance of a decisive material change in US actions over any cosmetic rhetorical shift, felt in the end that the language Obama used had itself represented a material difference in approach, which may bode well in terms of more practical measures further down the line. For Karon, Obama had shifted the terms of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue; inadequately but still substantively and progressively.
In response to the speech, Hamas repeated its long-standing position of accepting a Palestinian state on the legal 1967 borders and pledging not to stand in the way of any international efforts to effect that solution. On the Israeli side, by contrast, shock and confusion reign at the realisation that when the Obama administration asks Israel to moderate their colonisation of the West Bank in some minor way, they - unlike previous administrations - actually mean it. And the next generation of American-Israeli colonists seem less than impressed with Obama's stance on their adoptive homeland.
That's the gap between the two sides: an end to illegal colonisation or a continuation of it. So is Obama merely going to tell the Israelis not to steal even more Palestinian land, but that they can keep what is already stolen, which is already so much as to render a Palestinian state unworkable? Or is he preparing to tell Israel further down the road to start dismantling a substantive amount of its illegal settlements in order to effect a settlement that broadly accords with international law and the international consensus? Those are the key questions that will be answered over the next few months - a period which could prove seminal in the history of this conflict.