Speeches, so it turns out, are an excellent substitute for policy. There's no solution to the problem of radical Islam? Talk about reaching out in friendship to moderate Islam. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is stuck? Talk about the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. The war on Al-Qaida is not progressing? Speak of building a nation in Afghanistan. Iran is being impudent? Issue an elegant warning. Wait a year. Let it be forgotten and then make another speech. Erase all that did not succeed, bypass the major crises and continue on to the next year.
Indeed, President Barack Obama's State of the Union address reveals that what stirred the world's imagination during the past year, what led to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, what caused sandstorms in Middle Eastern and Muslim states and sowed terror in Israel - simply popped like a bubble. Not a single word on the Middle East peace process. Only a restrained "promise" to Iran's leaders of "growing consequences." No new outstretched arm to moderate Islam. A word about human rights? Nothing. Just let us make it through the year in peace.
The great vision came down to local politics. To fighting against tribes, gangs, or, in the case of Israel, nationalist parties. Whoever thought that Obama would fulfill the message of Arab-Israeli peace can, like Obama, kick himself for nurturing lofty expectations. But if Obama can chalk up his meager achievements in the Middle Eastern marketplace to inexperience - as if every U.S. president has to reinvent the wheel - that doesn't absolve the Israelis from paying the bill.
The very thought that whoever is elected prime minister of Israel, the United States will take care of things for us reeks of the sin of pride, resulting from the fact that in Israeli eyes there is no connection between politics and policy. We can have a braggart for prime minister, a thug for foreign minister, someone with racist tendences as interior minister, a gourmand for defense minister, a nationalist for minister of national infrastructure and for the minister of culture ... well, okay. But our future - that we place in the hands of the U.S. president. He is the one who must bear for us responsibility for negotiations with the Palestinians, to block, for us, the Iranian bomb, to fight against radical Islam and to worry about our economy. We will enjoy ourselves with our political acrobatics, and he will cook, lay the table and also force us to eat so that we can grow and be strong. If he fails, it is his failure, not ours.
We are, of course, not alone. The existence of failed states like Iraq or Afghanistan depends not only on external assistance but also on decisions made by the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. More "organized" states, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and even Syria, conduct their own policies and set an agenda for the U.S., not the other way around. Turkey decided to broaden its influence and its links with the Arab world and with Central Asia; Saudi Arabia dictates moves in the Middle East; and Iran has become a power on its own accord. Syria reclaimed its control over Lebanon and returned to the warm embrace of the Arab center, and now holds significant sway over the future of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
As usual these changes are of no interest to Israel. Obama, like every other U.S. president, continues to be our impresario. Only ours. As such, the real negotiations are with him and not with the Palestinians or the Arab states. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to limit construction in the territories he was responding not to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but to Obama. When Netanyahu speaks of resuming negotiations he is addressing not the Palestinian government, but rather Obama. Abbas and Obama, of course, are the ones responsible for the lack of a peace process: Abbas painted himself into a corner, while Obama aimed for the skies with his vision and now cannot deliver the goods. It's his fault, and Israel can celebrate its victory.
It may be that Obama is only an orator and not a statesman. But Israel is the last one who can judge him for that. Israel is very pleased with the cage in which it has trapped him. The question is what will Israel be left with after this success. Indeed, the threat of peace was nearer a year ago. We nearly fell into the trap when Netanyahu announced the freeze in settlement construction. We were on the verge of another Masada. But thank God we pulled ourselves together. Certainly we will survive this American president, too.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now