Please, with might
Obama is the final hope: Only if he throws his entire weight into the process will anything in the Middle East start moving.
The headline of this piece may be taken from a Kabbalistic prayer, but it's not aimed at God; this is rather an earthly plea to the American president. The statesman he will be hosting tomorrow has already shown during his brief tenure that might is the only language he understands. We should hope that Barack Obama will succeed just like the defense minister and the Histadrut labor federation chairman, who twisted Benjamin Netanyahu's arm in the budget deliberations.
A political U-turn by the prime minister is much more vital to Israel than his impressively sharp economic U-turn. Obama is the final hope: Only if he throws his entire weight into the process will anything in the Middle East start moving. Any American president could have long ago brought about substantial progress, first and foremost ending the intolerable Israeli occupation. But Obama's predecessors shrank from the task, preferring to yield to the Jewish and Christian lobbies and to engage in masquerades of negotiations leading nowhere.
A whole lot more is expected from Obama: "Change" in the Middle East; "Yes We Can" is also about Israel. This change must encompass two components: Genuinely pressuring Israel - and no, there isn't any other way - and demanding actions rather than words. We've had plenty of the latter, and it doesn't really matter if Netanyahu utters the words "two states" or if he does not.
The real test is Moshe and Mohammed. Only if both of them feel a change can we say a truly different president is now in Washington. Mohammed, any Mohammed living in the occupied territories, should feel his life has become more free and prosperous; Moshe, any Moshe living in Israel, must feel he is withdrawing from being an occupier, after two successive generations. At the end of the day, both Moshe and Mohammed will be grateful to Barack Obama.
It'll take more than sticky smiles. Netanyahu will be clinging to his usual excuse, the Iranian threat; Obama will have to explain that there is nothing like neutralizing the Arab-Israeli conflict to secure the future of the State of Israel. And this should be the order of the day, too: resolving the Palestinian issue as leverage for negotiating with Iran, even if Netanyahu tries to change the agenda and buy some time. Deep inside, we yearn for an Israeli prime minister who realizes that opportunities are running out and that the alternatives are dangerous, but this hope has long since been abandoned. Israel talks two states while expanding Ma'aleh Adumim; Israel talks peace and sets out on two unneccesary wars.
Which is why, sadly, nothing will happen without pressure, and true pressure can come only from Washington. An American president who is a friend to Israel not only can, but must, apply this pressure; Israel is a protectorate addicted to occupation - and the only way to ditch a habit is the hard way. A bogus friend sponsors the addiction, a true friend gets us into rehab.
Nor is this the time to present the Palestinians with endless demands or preconditions - to acknowledge, to give up, to compromise. They've done it plenty over the last two decades: Now is the time for the occupier to end the occupation, immediately, unconditionally, moments before the two-state solution draws its final breath and passes beyond the realm of possibility, if it hasn't already. Which is why Obama should be standing with a stopwatch, too: Time is running out.
There's one message that should emerge from Washington: Israel is beginning to act, not to talk but to act, to end the occupation. Freeze the settlements without any lies, dismantle the outposts without tricks, give Palestinians freedoms without feints, and establish a rigid agenda to dismantle the entire settler enterprise. Anything less will be seen as failure, any move less daring will ensure a deadlock that will bring more bloodshed and the eventual establishment of a permanent binational apartheid state.
Does it sound big and pretentious? Well, there's a big, pretentious president now sitting in Washington. The Arabs have already learned that Israel understands force and force alone; all its limited concessions were carried out after bloodshed, never before. It's time Washington learns the same lesson: Please, with might, Barack Obama, because there is no other way.