Welcome, Mr. President

Bring the truth to Ramallah, Cairo and Riyadh, and you may ultimately be recalled as the statesman who touched off Arab-Jewish reconciliation.

March 20, 2013 14:40
US-Israel ties

Us Israel ties 370. (photo credit: US Embassy)

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 tragically aloof.

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Facing a packed auditorium you counted six obstacles on the road to “a new beginning” in American-Muslim relations.

Among those, 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 will.

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.

THE HUNDRED 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 war.

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.

Probe 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 Barnea.

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.

For my 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 as “stiff-necked.”

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 creation.

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.

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.

Bring this 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

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