Savir's Corner: Thank you Mr. President

No one, even right-wing Republicans and Israelis, will be able to say that Obama is not a staunch friend of Israel.

Obama hugging Bibi Peres bckgrnd 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama hugging Bibi Peres bckgrnd 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The pessimistic forecasts of President Barack Obama’s visit last week were wrong. He did not come, as predicted, with a grand new peace plan, and he did come with a major charm offensive.
But the prevailing view, that Obama’s visit was aimed just at reaffirming his friendship with Israel and listening to Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, was wrong.
Obama came for a game changer, a surprising and correct one – to introduce innovation in peacemaking – a peace process driven by the people, mainly the young generation of Israel and the region.
He came, he saw, he conquered.
He spoke to the young, in and from Jerusalem, above the heads of their political leaders, and galvanized them to lead on the road to peace and to pressure their leaders to make decisions for peace.
Obama understands the new rules of the game in the Middle East – that much will depend on the young, the generation of the Tahrir revolutions and the Rothschild movement protests, who will no longer tolerate the procrastinations and excuses of their archaic leaders.
The reception to his speech, by the young, not only in the hall at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, but in the country, as well as by many of the young in the Palestinian territories, was positive and often enthusiastic. He spoke their language.
His life story captivates their imagination and sets a formidable example; they felt empowered and showed respect and admiration for a truly great democratic leader. The politicians on both sides must have watched the speech with mixed feelings.
None of them likes to be sidelined, even by their constituency, and none of them could endorse everything in the speech.
Yet after the reaction of the young, they had to refrain from their usual cynical criticism. Obama taught them a lesson in leadership, civil courage and in telling the truth. Only his host and friend, President Shimon Peres, fully identifies with the Obama message, which is also his own.
Obama’s visit, with the Jerusalem speech at its centerpiece, created a new paradigm of inclusive peacemaking and a balanced future approach to a region at a crossroads, with several important components:  No one, even right-wing Republicans and Israelis, will be able to say that Obama is not a staunch friend of Israel.
His expressions of friendship with Israel and Israelis came from his most fundamental beliefs regarding Jewish history and from his view of the dramatic modern Israeli success story. No one can teach him when it comes to friendship with Israel.
This friendship is also translated into policy. The survival, security and well-being of our country are basic American interests in the view of this American president. Our security has been, and will be, bolstered by the relationship with Obama and his administration; his words and deeds will serve as a deterrent to Israel’s enemies, starting with Iran.
• Being a friend of Israel does not have to mean being anti-Arab, or anti-Palestinian.
Obama struck a new balance – a passionate friend and supporter of Israel and its security on one side, and a strong supporter of Palestinian rights for self-determination and an independent state on the other. He crushed the myth that being pro-Israel means being opposed to the Arabs. On the contrary, he created a bridge between legitimate Israeli aspirations for security and legitimate Palestinian aspirations for an independent state.
He put himself in the shoes of both.
• Peace in the new Obama doctrine is both necessary and just. Necessary in order to prevent war and terror and to weaken the radicals and fundamentalists.
Necessary in order for Israelis to preserve the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel and for the Palestinians to enhance the Arab and democratic nature of Palestine.
Both sides, while having different historical narratives, need to recognize the other side and its right to live in full freedom.
• Another paradigm that Obama stated was to link Israeli-Palestinian peace and regional stability. He called on the countries in the region to gradually normalize their relations with Israel, parallel to a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is in conformity with the Saudi peace plan. A first step in that direction was the successful efforts to re-normalize Turkish-Israeli relations.
• Obama also made it blatantly clear to his Israeli and Arab interlocutors and listeners that if they want to belong to the globalized world, the entry ticket is a peace process. The alternative is dangerous international relations and being left behind by global change and opportunity.
• Above all, Obama introduced a different peace dynamic – by the young and for the young – adapting to the profound regional transitions; the young in the region are the democratic majority, with 60 percent under the age of 30 and young demonstrators toppling dictators and expressing dissatisfaction with politics and politicians. They, in Obama’s view, have not only become the barometer of the social tendencies, but also the engine of change.
The new coalition between the young American President and the young of Israel and Palestine can and should become a powerful vehicle for positive transformation in the region. The young understand that their very well-being and basic freedoms, their higher education, their opportunity to enter the more modern workplace of technology and their connection to a transforming world are dependent on living in peace. Political compromise for peace means getting more out of life. They can serve as a democratic pressure group on politicians whose main aim is to cling to power.
Obama wants security for Israel, self-determination for the Palestinians and power for the young.
These interconnected approaches must have a powerful impact, not only because they came from the charismatic leader of the free world, but because they have great validity in the reality of the Middle East. As Obama said, we are at a crossroads, between war and peace, between living up to our identity and sacrificing it.
It is now up to us in the region, with the help of our American friends, to act upon these fundamental truths: • Netanyahu, as a third-term prime minister, can either opt for “more of the same” policies or make a courageous historical turn toward reality.
It is a choice between being a politician and being a statesman. If he continues to lead Israel in opposition to the rest of the world and the region, in opposition to our very identity as a Jewish democracy, in coalition with Moshe Feiglin and Naftali Bennett, continuing on the road of settlements, instead of a historic settlement, it will become a slippery slope, endangering our security, democracy, economic development, our place among nations, and ultimately our friendship with the United States. The alternative is change – to launch an Israeli peace initiative with realistic positions, mainly concerning the border with a demilitarized Palestinian state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed land swaps and stringent security measures.
• Abu Mazen (Abbas) too must decide, following the visit, on which side of history he wants to belong – the unilateral, futile international bid for statehood, leading nowhere, or the engagement in a historical compromise with his next-door neighbor, the Jewish State of Israel. He too must be on the proposing side, not just reacting with constant hesitation, but rather proposing real peace between Palestine and Israel and an end to the conflict with the understanding that the right of return will be to the new independent state of Palestine.
• The United States cannot replace the leaders of the region, but it can, as Obama did, place international reality and regional alternatives in front of them. It also can serve as an encouraging and mediating force in the form of Secretary of State John Kerry. A new basis for negotiations should now be created, bringing into account the legitimate interests of the two parties – comprised of the previous agreements between the parties, the vision expressed by Israel’s main ally, Obama, in 2011 and the Saudi Peace Initiative.
These desired policy changes can come about with an innovative approach to peacemaking, as proposed by Obama.
Inclusive peacemaking, not just between political leaders, but also between the young, Israelis and Palestinians alike and those who heard Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009 and his Jerusalem speech in 2013.
They are the generation of change, as ultimately peace is about them. At a very young age we send them to war to risk their lives, so we should also permit them to be the soldiers of peace in order to rescue their lives, livelihoods and the very independence and identity of their countries.
For this proposition and more – thank you, Mr. President!
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
This column was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.