I listened intently to every word in Barack Obama's speech. Apart from a few small nuances, George W. Bush could have delivered the same speech. On the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab issue, in particular, not only could Bush have delivered the same speech, he did - almost everything the current U.S. president said in Cairo was said many times over by his predecessor. It was not Obama, after all, who invented the maxim "two states for two peoples" - it was at the very core of his predecessor's vision, our great friend in the White House, as early as 2002.
The attempt to turn Obama into Israel's enemy is mendacious, foolish, irresponsible and potentially disastrous. There will probably be more disputes between Israel and the new president, not only because of his clear worldview and determination, but also because of the current Israeli government's shortsightedness.
But the portrayal of Obama as hostile to Israel is baseless. Those familiar with the Arab world's sensitivities know it takes a great deal of courage to refer - in a speech in Cairo on conciliation with the Arab and Muslim world - to the Holocaust, the evil and lie of its denial, the Jewish people's persecution over the centuries, its right to a national home, and the "unbreakable" bond between Israel and the United States. Obama's vehement denunciation of terrorism against Israel, referring to suicide bombings and Qassam rockets aimed at Sderot's children, and the firm demand that Palestinians disassociate themselves from this terrorism, were clear and unequivocal.
Obama declared that the United States does not consider West Bank settlement expansion to be legitimate, and demanded its complete freeze. But the Israeli government is pulling the wool over our eyes when it speaks of "natural growth" - the only difference between the Bush and Obama administrations is that the latter won't accept Israel's winks, nudges and bluffs.
The disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem is not over adding a yard to a kindergarten or putting up a health clinic, but over land expropriation, paving roads and adding housing units to communities beyond the separation fence - settlements whose only purpose is to torpedo the chance for a peace agreement. The dispute is based mainly on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to recognize that the solution of two states for two peoples is an Israeli interest, an Israeli obligation and the expectation of the entire world, not to mention most Israelis.
Even before Obama aired his speech, representatives of the right began competing to condemn it most fiercely. The bar was set by Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Hershkowitz, who compared the U.S. president to Pharaoh, and the former's demand to halt settlement growth to the latter's order in Exodus that "Every son who is born you shall cast into the river." The government must stop such malicious nonsense before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Netanyahu is right in saying that a life-loving nation must identify the dangers threatening it, as well as its real and vital interests. Today's State of Israel faces serious threats, and its alliance with the United States and its president are fundamental pillars of its security. The "special relationship" between Israel and America was forged through tremendous effort over decades, and the current prime minister will have abused his position and violated his obligations if he does not know how to cultivate and protect it.
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