Hamas's Meshaal reacts to the speech

In his speech in Cairo today, Barack Obama addressed the militant group and political party Hamas directly, acknowledging the support it receives from many Palestinians, but urging it to “put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.”

Shortly after the speech, Hamas’s political leader Khaled Meshaal shared his reactions with freelance journalist Helena Cobban in Damascus. It's reprinted here with her permission:

Of course I listened to the speech. The words are different from those used by Bush. The speech was cleverly written in the way it addressed the Muslim world-- using phrases from the Holy Kor'an, and referring to some historical events. And also, in the way it showed respect to the Muslim heritage. But I think it's not enough!

What's needed are deeds, actions on the ground, and a change of policies.

For example, if the Palestinians today don't find a real change from the situation of siege in Gaza, there's no point; the speech by itself doesn't help them. What they're looking for is an end to the siege and an end to occupation.

We want to see practical steps by the United States such as ending Israel's settlement activity, putting an end to Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land and its campaign to Judaize Jerusalem; an end to its demolitions of Palestinian homes; and the removal of the 600 checkpoints that are stifling normal life in the West Bank.

Rather than sweet words from President Obama on democratization, we'd rather see the United States start to respect the results of democratic elections that have already been held. And rather than talk about democratization and human rights in the Arab world, we'd rather see the removal of General Dayton, who's building a police state there in the West Bank.

In the speech, Obama talked about the Palestinian state, but not its borders. He didn't mention whether it should comprise all the Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, or just part of it, as Israel demands.

He made no mention of Jerusalem or the Right of Return.

Yes, he spoke of an end to settlement activity; but can he really get them to stop?

Without addressing these issues, the speech remains rhetoric, not so very different from his predecessor's.


Iran's voter turnout nailbiter

The AP's recent report about Iranian reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi paints an optimistic picture, describing enthusiastic voter outreach campaigns and other exercises of political freedom the country isn't typically known for. This is all very promising—both for Iran and the United States. But the report misses some fundamental points.

Roughly 46 million Iranians will be eligible to vote on June 12. According to Mousavi's campaign manager, the chances of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad losing the race shoot up to 65 percent if voter turnout exceeds 32 million. By contrast, he says, the odds of a regime change plummet to just 35 percent if voter turnout is limited to 27 million or fewer. Might this election hinge on five million voters?

If his calculations are correct, a best-case scenario for Mousavi would have to count on 70 percent of eligible voters showing up to the polls. That's an astronomical number, considering how badly turnout in recent years has been slumping.

Still, keep your eyes out for a surprise—this presidential race is fast becoming one of the most energetic and competitive in the nation's history.