Welcome back, Mr. President. It’s been more than four years since you last
visited, and much has happened in the interim.
Your Egyptian hosts are
gone, and the Cairo where you delivered your much-heralded speech has since
become part of a broad, intra-Arab war zone that renders your rhetoric then
Click here for full JPost coverage of Obama's visit to Israel
Facing a packed auditorium you counted six obstacles on
the road to “a new beginning” in American-Muslim relations.
just after ‘violent extremism” and before nuclear weapons, democracy, religious
freedom and women’s rights – you fingered us. You spoke of a humanitarian crisis
in Gaza though there wasn’t any, and you cried out that “it is time for these
settlements to stop,” a sentiment that Israelis like this one share, but by no
means see as a cause of Western-Muslim discord.
Now, with Mubarak jailed,
Gaddafi slain, the former leaders of Tunisia and Yemen exiled, and Assad
dismembering Syria, your analysis begs revision. Islamism’s electoral victories
disproved your insistence that Middle Eastern extremism is the lot of “a small
but potent minority.” In this part of the world, fanaticism is the majority’s
Tom Friedman just wrote that “the most destabilizing conflict” here
is the Shi’ite- Sunni war. While debatable, that diagnosis rightly dismisses
previous mantras that the Mideast is unstable because of the Arab- Israeli
conflict. Hopefully, this visit will convince you of this.
self-immolated Arabs who set the Arab world ablaze did not care about Israel.
They also didn’t care about the colonialist legacy that you decried. They wanted
jobs and dignity, and were demanding them not from Israel nor from yesteryear’s
foreign rulers, but from their own elites, those who squandered Arab
petrodollars on arms and overseas investments while cultivating ignorance and
As you put it, our conflict was “used to distract the people of Arab
nations from other problems.” But the Arab world didn’t hear, because all they
heard was your attack on Israel. Chances that the sermon you are expected to
deliver here will affect reality are not much higher. It would, therefore, be
more useful for you to use this visit to learn rather than preach.
two things while here. The first is the depth of our disillusionment. You would
do well to hear the Middle Israelis who backed all of Israel’s peace gambles,
only to ultimately emerge wounded, bitter, and humbled; people like Arab affairs
expert Ehud Yaari; jurist Amnon Rubinstein; Israel’s leading political scientist
Shlomo Avineri; and the country’s most influential journalist, Nahum
There is no need in telling us how gruesome wars are. We, unlike
most of our critics, have actually been to war. We lost relatives, classmates,
neighbors and colleagues on battlefields from Egypt to Lebanon.
part, my first war caught me in third grade, the third in high school, the
fourth when I was an undergraduate and took to the streets to protest Ariel
Sharon’s Lebanese misadventure, and by my sixth war, as executive editor of this
newspaper at the time, I led with my colleagues The Jerusalem Post’s support of
the pullout from Gaza. I also publicly backed the Oslo Accords, not to mention
the Camp David Accords. Mainstream Israel backed Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres,
Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert as they made huge peace proposals only to be turned
down and terrorized.
Sadly, we are also disillusioned about Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who refused to condemn Hamas’s artillery
attacks on our cities and, like Yasser Arafat before him, denies Judaism’s roots
in Israel in general and in Jerusalem in particular.
Our feeling right
now is that peace will not arrive in our time. Unlike our previous thinking, we
are now resigned to the fact that our enemies remain bent on myth, denial and
hatred, and nothing we will do will make them accept us as legitimate residents
in our ancestral land.
This is the Israel where you are landing, sir, and
admonishing us now about the merits of land-for-peace and the drawbacks of
settlements will only lead you to that part of our physique that Moses described
DESPITE THIS pessimism, you can emerge from here
hopeful. While here, listen to the Hebrew in the air, and remember that for
centuries the Jews used it only for ritual and scholarship, until they decided
to revive the language in which Moses legislated, David poeticized, Solomon
philosophized and Isaiah prophesied.
It took the Jews but several
generations to breathe life into their forebearers’ dormant tongue, which is now
spoken by some eight million people worldwide. Listen to the Hebrew around you
and think of the can-do attitude it represents – the cultural renaissance,
entrepreneurial drive, industrial inventiveness, scientific excellence, and
agricultural success that this country has accomplished even while lacking
resources and constant attacked.
Then think of what it would be like to
persuade our neighbors to be inspired rather than spooked by all this
To make this shift they will have to start where Zionism’s
founding fathers started, which was to tell the Jews to stop lying to
themselves. The Jews had lied to themselves for ages that their sorry lot was
God’s will. The Palestinians are lying to themselves that their sorry lot is
Israel’s will. Disabusing them of this culture of recrimination is the key to
Peace will become discussable when Israel’s neighbors realize that
Palestinian displacement was not “brought by Israel’s founding,” as you
suggested in Cairo, but by reckless leaders who rejected the UN’s two-state
vision and waged war on embryonic Israel; peace will sprout after Arab leaders
garner the courage to admit that the Jews’ national and cultural roots lie in
the land of their forebearers; and peace will flourish when Arab leaders tell
their citizens it’s time they learned self-help from the Jews.
truth to Ramallah, Cairo and Riyadh, and you may ultimately be recalled as the
statesman who touched off Arab-Jewish reconciliation.
The writer is a
fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute www.MiddleIsrael.com