Saturday, March 23, 2013

FPI Comment on Obama's I/P Visit

Dear Friend,
Here are my thoughts on the visit by the U.S. President to I/P. It also comes as an attachment. JRK

FPI director John Kleinheksel on the President’s Visit to Israel/Palestine (March, 2013)

I What happened? There was much to like about President Obama’s visit to friends and foreigners in Israel/Palestine, March 20-23, 2013. Yet, many questions remain to be answered.

I’m reminded of the contest between Sun and Wind, as to which of them could get the Traveler to shed his coat. “Watch me get it done,” boasted Wind, as he blew harder and harder. But the more Wind blew, the tighter the Traveler wrapped her overcoat around her. “Let me show you how,” spoke Sun, turning up the heat. The Traveler began loosening her coat. Sun’s warmth persisted until the Traveler finally shed her protective coat.

Obama has come to the Middle East both as Wind and Sun. When he first came (June, 2009) to Cairo, Egypt, to reset U.S./Arab relationships, his coming as Sun to Arabs was perceived as a gale-force Wind in the face of the Israelis. Consequently his insistence on a settlement freeze (from a distance) was perceived as a preference for Palestinians (and a nail in the coffin of Jewish State legitimacy).

So now, at the outset of his 2nd term, he goes in person to Jerusalem to reassure the Israeli leadership that he is fully supportive of the “Jewish State”. “Trust me”, he said, “You can now take risks for peace with their Palestinian neighbors”. But he doesn’t make this case to the Knesset, (the Israeli Parliament). Instead he goes to representatives of the newer generations of mostly Jewish, but some Muslim and Christian young people, at the Jerusalem Convention Center. He strongly encourages the more than 2,000, to build bridges to one another and bring about grass root changes that will have to be taken into account by reluctant “politicians”.

Call it a charm offensive or a visit to repair frayed U.S./Israeli relations, but hear him inviting the younger generation to compose new music to replace the discordant jangle so offensive right now. “You can transcend the deadly stalemate of the past years (and decades)”.

“Put yourselves in Palestinian shoes”, said he. They desire what you want for Israelis: A State of their own, a stake in an open economy, homes and education and the dignity of full citizenship.

He said these things right there in Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish state, and from his own heart; the very things he would not be permitted to speak in Washington D. C. lest he be run out of town as an Anti-Semitic bigot. He came in person, not demanding, but appealing.

So, he clearly laid out the substantive issues (“Justice” for Palestinians, “security” for Israelis) as an insider “friend”, not an outsider “enemy”, urging youths to take actions for engagement.

II Of course, questions remain. Lots of them:

1) Will the settlers persist in their drive to colonize all the land?

2) Will the Palestinians doubt his sincerity in pressing for an independent, autonomous Palestinian state?

3) Is the Two-State option even alive, or must Palestinians press for full equality in a One-Jewish-Palestinian State.

4) Will a way be found to begin indispensable negotiations?

But the main question it seems to me is simply this:

5) Given the President’s virtual unconditional pledge of support to the existing Jewish State, why would Israel change course by meaningful engagement with Palestinian aspirations (for “Ending the Occupation”)? Why would the new Israeli administration be willing to move toward a true “Two-State” solution to the “conflict”, given the new strength of the settler movement in the new administration? [“Conflict? What conflict? We Israelis have things going our way. The US is “at our back” so it’s ‘business as usual’. Let the Palestinians continue to eat the crumbs falling from our table”.]

Obama: “It is in your long-term self-interest to diffuse the unrelenting resentment against the ‘Occupation’ (Yes! He actually used the term, much to the dismay of the Israeli right wing!)

Will Israel listen? Will the Arab Palestinians listen? Will bridge-building relationships deepen and bear fruit, or will rejectionist extremists from both sides reinforce the fences that block human interaction (and lead to violent carnage)?

Will the President’s visit be perceived as the Wind in your face, reinforcing intransigence, or as the Sun on your back, to bring about a thaw in frosty relationships on all sides? The newer generations of Arabs and Israelis will bring about a new Israel/Palestinian “Spring”. Participants take notice. Don’t miss out!

John Kleinheksel, “Friends of Palestinians and Israelis” (FPI)

There is no PEACE without JUSTICE; there is no justice without LOVE.