A double new start
The government of Israel, like that of the Palestinians, has no right to ignore this opportunity and place it in the drawer alongside all the other missed opportunities.
The extraordinary speech by the U.S. president in Cairo was meant, in his words, "to seek a new beginning" between the United States and Islam. This is an essential beginning following years of hostility and alienation between American administrations and Muslims and Arabs.
The refined rhetoric of Barack Obama, the frankness and directness with which he unfolded the history of hatred between Islam and the West, and the fashion in which he drew the right paths these two great civilizations must follow in order to foment partnership, have undoubtedly set a new horizon for their relationship. At least that is the hope.
However, Obama's America did not only present a new ideological agenda yesterday. Even if the sharp characteristics of a diplomatic plan and a strategy for its implementation were missing from the speech, the diplomatic agency is sufficiently clear and stems from the new ideological framework.
As such, Obama does not consider some more equal than others. The right of Israel to exist as an independent and sovereign state does not supersede that of the Palestinians. The suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians under occupation are unacceptable, and therefore they must be granted human and political rights; no less unacceptable is the condition of Israeli citizens who live under the threat of rockets. And mostly, the settlements are an illegal creation, irrespective of whether they are called outposts or communities. It is not merely a matter of passive facts on the ground, but a practical obstacle to peace.
Obama does not free any side of responsibility, including his own administration. The assignment of roles is clear, and based on the road map and the Arab peace initiative. The Palestinians must combat terrorism and establish a responsible government; Israel must cease settlement activity and recognize the rights of Palestinians; the Arab countries must recognize Israel without waiting for a resolution of the conflict; and the American administration must invest every effort in order to bring all these sides together.
There were concerns in Israel's government about the address, which followed tensions in relations with the Obama administration, and also among the settlers, as was expected, there have already been assertive statements against Obama and his policies. Many in the public would like to consider the speech mere lip service to the Arab and Muslim countries, at the expense of Israel. On the other hand, there will be many in the Arab and Muslim side who will celebrate a victory of their "righteousness" over Israel's, and consider the speech an achievement and a strategic change in the direction that the American iceberg is taking.
However, both sides would make a historic error if they allow Obama's superb rhetoric to sink and become a footnote in their wrangling. Because it was not only before Islam and the West, but also, perhaps mostly, before Israel, the Palestinians and the Arabs, that an opportunity for a new beginning was laid out in Cairo yesterday. Without threats or force came an American promise and commitment to serve as a guiding light, and to encourage and cultivate the diplomatic process.
The government of Israel, like that of the Palestinians, has no right to ignore this opportunity and place it in the drawer alongside all the other missed opportunities. The price of missing out will not be measured in the quality of relations with Washington, but in human lives.
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