Analysis || In Obama’s itinerary, Thursday is 'Palestine Day'
Reports of the evaporation of the 'peace process' were grossly exaggerated, it seems, as Obama’s trip to Ramallah and his speech in Jerusalem may prove.
In the weeks leading up to President Obama’s visit, a sort of informal competition developed to see who could dig the deepest hole in the ground for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Palestinians refused to show the slightest interest, the White House lowered expectations to subterranean levels and the Israelis concentrated on the Beach Boys refrain once made famous by Senator John McCain: “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”.
Coming into the presidential visit to the Middle East, the peace process was dead as a doornail, pushing up daisies, sleeping with the fishes. And anyone who claimed otherwise was laughed out of town.
On Wednesday, however, as Barack Obama was carrying out his massive charm offensive against the Israeli public and its leaders, something seemed to be stirring, deep underground. While Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke of Iran, Syria, Palestinians, in that order, Obama made a point of turning things around, making it Palestinians, Syria and only then Iran.
More importantly, in what was obviously a gesture of hospitality made by the prime minister in order to smooth things along, Netanyahu gave the president what he so pointedly omitted from his speech at the new government’s presentation in the Knesset this week: He proclaimed unequivocally that “Israel is committed to two states for two peoples.”
Some of Netanyahu’s party members and newly-installed coalition partners murmured with discomfort on the sidelines, but later consoled themselves with the Jewish mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, the biblical injunction to do whatever it takes to make the guest feel at home. It’s just talk, they said, and it will evaporate the moment Air Force One takes off from Ben Gurion Airport.
But that dismissal may turn out to be nothing more than whistling past the graveyard. In fact, there is a growing suspicion, even among die hard skeptics, that the reports of the death of the peace process were, as Mark Twain famously said, grossly exaggerated.
Because the second leg of Obama’s visit is likely to be one in which the Palestinians take center stage and get their day in court. Obama will be calling on President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in a visit that includes the kind of tension, suspicion and hostility that will make his jaunt in Israel seem like a Sunday brunch with liberal Democrats in Chicago.
The potential for disruption, in fact, could make the president’s brief stay in the Palestinian capital much more compelling and dramatic and headline-grabbing than the thick layers of feel-good, Ozzie-and-Harriet style schmaltz that Obama was laying on Wednesday in Israel, just in time for Passover kneidlach.
Moreover, it seems that the thrust of Obama’s speech before Israeli students in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon, billed in advance as the keynote centerpiece of his entire visit, will focus on the supposedly forgotten need to come to terms with the Palestinians. The speech will obviously include many encouraging expressions of love and support that Obama has suddenly become adept at, but may also contain some Jeremiah-like admonitions “that may not be so pleasant to everyone,” as some sources predicted Wednesday, about the bleak future awaiting Israel in the absence of an arrangement with the Palestinians.
This, of course, will come as a surprise to some Israelis who have taken to viewing the Palestinian problem with the mindset attributed to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, who assumed that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you; that if you say there is no Palestinian problem, then there won’t be.
Obama’s plans to tell his audience that there is little chance that the Palestinians will status-quo themselves to oblivion may come as a nasty shock to many Israelis, including some of those seated around Netanyahu’s cabinet table. They were so looking forward to being a band of brothers and "equalizing the burden," while the Palestinians unobtrusively languished away.
But the much-maligned peace process, it turns out, is like a Whac-A-Mole game in the arcade. Just when you think it’s been hit over the head once and for all, it pops up again, where you least expect it. And unlike the machines in which you put in a few quarters to play, it turns out that in real life, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is never a “Game Over.” Not by a long shot.
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