My Word: Obama’s trip

Trying to force a peace solution on Israel and the Palestinians won’t solve the troubles of the world.

Obama at Western Wall (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama at Western Wall
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’m pleased President Barack Obama has solved all the domestic problems of the US. And those of nuclearizing Iran, its global terrorist tentacles, North Korea, and the Arab Spring that left the Muslim world bleeding and vulnerable, perfect operating ground for jihadists. It’s good to know that the economy – worldwide – is back on track.
I should be happy that the president now has time to tackle the particular part of the Middle East where I live. Like most of my friends, however, I find it hard to be enthusiastic about the news that Obama, safely ensconced in his second term, wants to visit next month – unless he wants to bring Jonathan Pollard with him, in time to celebrate Seder night in Jerusalem.
Colleagues recall with groans the traffic snarl-ups that a US presidential visit inevitably entails. For the average Jerusalemite, this is the main association: Road Map = traffic jams. Well, there is another association but it’s so awful that many try not to think about it. Peace talks = terror attacks.
That’s how it’s been for roughly the last 20 years. Any time there was a concentrated effort to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, lots of people died. Peace negotiations, perceived by most of the Western world, as the road to paradise have led us to hell as Palestinian “martyrs” commit suicide bombings on buses, in restaurants, in shopping malls and other sites where they have a good chance of blowing up as many innocent people as possible.
Territorial concessions – another demand – have not been followed by peace but by missile attacks, be it from the area around Bethlehem, Gaza or Lebanon. The vast majority of Israelis – North, South and Center – now know the stomach-churning feeling that accompanies a missile alert.
Settlements, we’ve discovered, are not the main obstacle to peace; the presence of Jews anywhere in the region – and perhaps anywhere on the planet – is the problem.
One hopes Obama will do a bit of homework before he comes on his first visit as president. The history and sensitivities of the area are hugely complex. They won’t be solved by a presidential photo opportunity and a few sound bites, which we’ve probably all heard before.
If Obama’s visit fails – or more likely, when it fails – we’ll be the ones left picking up the pieces; picking them up and putting them in body bags, if experience is anything to go on.
OBAMA HAS been criticized for not visiting the region during his first term in office. “The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including, of course, Iran and Syria,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney on February 5.
It is hard to imagine what the Obama administration can come up with now but it will have to be extraordinarily creative to fix the damage from his first term. Then, the president made mistake after mistake regarding the Arab world and turned the few issues that Israelis and Palestinians were likely to be able to agree on – such as Israel keeping so-called settlement blocs in return for land swaps – into subjects so sensitive that it seems hard to see how the negotiations can even begin, let alone what good can come out of them.
So far, the Palestinians have breached agreement after agreement with no consequences.
No wonder they don’t mind the image-boosting trappings of an American presidential visit.
The president’s itinerary is set to include Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It will not include Gaza, now controlled by Hamas, an acknowledged terrorist organization. And herein lies another prickly point that the president will probably want to ignore.
There is no hope for a two-state solution when there are already close to three Palestinian entities: Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.
And what will be the value of a piece of paper signed by a Palestinian leader whose own political position is so shaky he has extended his elected tenure by six years rather than face the likelihood of a defeat in the polls? Israel does not cherish the thought of a second Hamas regime on its border, but it raises the question of who, exactly, we are meant to be negotiating with, and for whom Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is speaking when he himself is not free to visit Gaza.
Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently calls on Abbas to return to the negotiating table and talk – in good faith; Abbas repeatedly responds with public speeches demonizing Israel as a murderous, apartheid regime. Worse still, Abbas gets away with it.
Every time Netanyahu mentions he is ready to talk, the international community demands to know what Israel will concede in order to return to the negotiating table; every time Abbas takes a unilateral step or blasts the “Zionists,” the world tries to soothe him with promises and more pressure on Israel.
Acting Knesset Speaker Binyamin Ben- Eliezer has called on the prime minister to invite the American president to address the Israeli parliament. As a gesture of friendship, this would work well. It might even be better, for example, than giving a powerful speech at the Hebrew University.
Obama’s 2009 Cairo University address still echoes hollowly around the Middle East – a reminder of the president’s complete incomprehension of the ways of this region; an attempt at mending fences oblivious to the tremors that were already making the ground shake and move.
Imagine, too, the hazards of the US president trying to get to the Mount Scopus campus – in what he officially considers occupied territory, even though the Hebrew University was opened there in 1925.
Of course, if he addresses the Israeli parliament, he will have to similarly speak in front of the Palestinian parliament – which to a certain extent negates the whole purpose of the visit. If Obama wants to recognize the symbols of the Palestinian state (Abbas’s one) from the outset of his trip, there’s no need for more negotiations, which will more than likely end in disaster.
And what will he tell the Jordanian parliament? Talk of the Arab Spring sounds more of a threat than a promise in a kingdom struggling against the same revolutionary process, as well as the fear of a Palestinian uprising. Perhaps that’s the reason leaders prefer to talk in university auditoriums rather than parliaments; the guest list in the former can be more easily controlled, while the latter comes with a built-in opposition.
The tragedy is that even those of us who do want to see a two-state solution can’t see it happening in the current circumstances.
Real peace needs to be based on reality, whereas Obama’s grasp of history and Middle Eastern politics are based on dreams, delusions and disinformation. A real chance for peace requires constructive and open thinking, not the ongoing delegitimization and praise for martyrdom that we are witnessing. It also needs a stable economic and political climate.
Trying to force a peace solution on Israel and the Palestinians won’t solve the troubles of the world – even a genuine peace agreement between the two won’t do that. Obama’s other problems won’t go away while he makes his presidential trip. Sadly, many of the problems might just get worse.
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]