Friday, June 05, 2009

President Barack Obama Went to Cairo & Walked the Extra Mile.

No 44 has gone further than any other President in his attempt to untie the historical knot in the Middle East.

Of course, he did not go far enough. The task of reversing historical trends in this area of the world would overwhelm even the best political leadership America can find.

Yesterday the world heard from the mouth of our new President that America wants to take a new path. But, as Mr. Obama himself noted, a speech does not - itself - make history.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.
It was a noble and eloquent effort that fell short. Still, I give Barry an A- in this attempt:
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

. . . . the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. . . . Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. . . . .

. . . . . Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued existing Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop be vacated.

. . . . . America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. . . . privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true. Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed.
So, our gifted President deserves very high marks. But even he falls short of honors.

The existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank prevent the establishment of a self-sustaining Palestinian state. The status quo will not hold. The effects of the eight-year Busheney era of procrastination, prevarication and provocation have left us with what sailors call a hatchet bowline. That's a knot that can only be loosened with a hatchet.

The saddest two words in the English language are "too late".

10 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Bob Keller said...

Vigilante, You and I are in nearly complete agreement: The Speech of the Century

6/06/2009 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger DB Cooper said...

Maybe I'm stretching it a little: Both Pakistan and Israel are failed states to the degree that they are receiving stipends of aid from the United States. Given that our $$$ are short at the moment, and given that Pakistan's policies are more in alignment with American foreign policy at the moment, why not switch Israel's allowance to bolster Pakistan's?

6/06/2009 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Emily said...


I do NOT agree with the words you would prefer Obama to have used, nor with the suggestion made by Mr. Cooper (who is clearly a provocateur of The First Water).

Both of you ignore the fact that Obama's definitive statement to Israel to STOP building settlements is the most he can say at this time. Removing the existing settlements and their inhabitants "ain't gunna happin". Nor is the United States going to abandon Israel in the manner Coop suggests.

Rather than berating Obama, let's appreciate and give thanks that he had the courage to say out loud that Israel must cease settlement building. Obama's speech was a carefully crafted and artful acknowledgment of realities and truths that too many wish to deny and/or ignore. It was masterful and historic, and I am proud of his courage, his eloquence, and his willingness to be firm, but not punitive, with the Israelis.

6/06/2009 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

I agree with every single word....Emily said! It is rare when I have nothing to say but she said it all, and did it much more eloquently than I could have. The president was brilliant in every sense of the word.

6/07/2009 06:24:00 AM  
Blogger Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

The fact that Obama is pushing a peace process early on is critical. Previous presidents waited too long and the clock ran out. Hopefully, the fact that there's no Arafat to deal with now will help as well.

6/07/2009 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Hey Vig,

I stand by my previous post. Obama's determination and courage are evident, not just in his recent speech, but more significantly, in his visible commitment to tackle, from his very first day in office, the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Unlike W, Obama is NOT waiting until his days as President are concluding, to stage an ineffectual grandstanding gesture toward "solving" the Middle East's continuing problems. Oh no! Obama has been actively working, from Day One in the Oval Office, to be an honest and trustworthy mediator who respectfully recognizes the suffering and the dreams of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I remain hopeful that the seeds Obama is planting will find fertile soil and that the Palestinians and the Israelis will ultimately "lie down together", as did the Lion and the Lamb.

Having said that, I offer you some "Red Meat", and look forward to reading your response to Marlene Nadle's article in today's LATimes on last words of the late Amos Elon

6/07/2009 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Jack Jodell said...

Vig, I think Obama did a pretty good job overall. After the damage Bush did to our relations with the Islamic peoples, especially the moderate ones who should be our friends, evidence strongly suggests that he laid an important first stone on the road to peace, cooperation, and understanding in that ravaged region. After all, the Great Pyramids had to be built one stone at a time, too, as I believe Obama's figurative Great Pyramid of peace will be built as well.

6/07/2009 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

Well said Jack!!

6/08/2009 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

Emily is right is right: Marlene Nadle, channeling the late Amos Elon, supports my statement above that Americans selected a leader of Barack Obama’s quality too late for the Middle East.

Let me say, at the outset, that it may not be by accident that Nadle’s article was not included in the Los Angeles Time’s on-line edition. Let me just leave it at that.

Amos Elon passed away last month. (Google him!) Were he still with us, his words would surely dampen enthusiasm of some people in the wake of Barack Obama’s brave words. But he can speak to us from beyond the grave. And, Elon’s testimony certainly supports my image of the Middle East as a glass half full and leaking. Emily, Wizard, and others believe the glass is half full and that with a few of Obama’s eloquent words there is still hope that can top it off.
Elon, Nadle writes, had been one of the few who wrote at the time that Moshe Dyan’s immediate post-1967 War decision to settle the West Bank would be a disaster. That was a concession, Elon said, to the

Religious nationalists who knew exactly what God said to Abraham in the Bronze Age.

Speaking at one of his last public appearances in 2004, Elon was not sanguine about untying the Palestinian knot. He believed only two outcomes are foreseeable: perpetual violence or ethnic cleansing:

It is possible a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be delayed for another generation. Perhaps much more than one.

Nadle writes that many rational, pragmatic, and liberal people, (not unlike many of those commenting in this thread) believe that if there was a problem, it could be fixed with compromise or clever language (a la Obama’s oratory). They do not reckon with the intoxication, the certainty, the mythical dreams of Israeli and Palestinian nationalists.

Amos Elon, on the contrary, will be remembered as the messenger of unpleasant truth:

Hell is the truth, understood too late.

It’s too late.

Even if we withdraw from all the settlements, a solution still may not be possible …. It has taken many years of occupation, repression and humiliation to produce the terrorists and the suicide bombers …. It will take many many years to unproduce them.

…. I tremble at the thought of results far more terrible than those we are not witnessing.

And Elon finds that Yeats would have understood:

We had fed the heart on fantasies.
The heart’s grown brutal with the fare. .

Oh, Boris! Would Voltaire smile across the centuries and accuse Elon of plagiarism?

6/08/2009 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger Kentucky Rain said...

I agree that it will take more than words to settle the Middle East. Regardless Obama's words, unlike Bush's, may go far to begin to heal that slow leak in that glass.

6/09/2009 09:07:00 AM  

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