Although many people in Jerusalem and Ramallah are anxiously waiting for U.S. President Barak Obama to arrive next week, there are some who are not as enthusiastic. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who is considered close to the White House, wrote Tuesday morning that Obama "could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist."
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Friedman does not criticize Obama personally but treats his visit to Israel with a lot of cynicism:
"In case you haven’t heard, President Obama leaves for Israel next week. It is possible, though, that you haven’t heard because it is hard for me to recall a less-anticipated trip to Israel by an American president little is expected from this trip - not only because little is possible, but because, from a narrow U.S. point of view, little is necessary.
"Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats Obama worked on this hobby early in his first term. He got stuck as both parties rebuffed him, and, therefore, he adopted, quite rationally in my view, an attitude of benign neglect. It was barely noticed," he wrote.
Obama has many good reasons to neglect the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A Palestinian state would be nice, but the tumultuous Arab world and the struggle between Sunnis and Shiites in the region raises questions about the mere future of the Syrian, Egyptian and Libyan states.
Moreover, Friedman claims, the obstacles standing in the way of a peace agreement were never bigger. Hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank and rocket fire from Gaza have eroded the appetite of the silent majority in Israel for any future withdrawal from the West Bank.
Friedman thinks Obama's new approach is bad news for Israel. He explains that Obama needs to ask Israeli leaders and the Israeli public three questions during his visit:
“Please tell me how your relentless settlement drive in the West Bank does not end up with Israel embedded there — forever ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians with a colonial-like administration that can only undermine Israel as a Jewish democracy and delegitimize Israel in the world community?
"I understand why Palestinian dysfunction and the Arab awakening make you wary, but still. Shouldn’t you be constantly testing and testing whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace?
"Everyone is focused on me and what will I do. But, as a friend, I just want to know one thing: What is your long-term strategy? Do you even have one?”
If Friedman's column was not enough, the New York Times published another column by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Colombia University that harshly criticizes Obama's policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Under the headline "Is any hope left for Mideast peace?" Khalidi writes:
"Toward the end of his first term, Mr. Obama essentially abandoned his already modest peacemaking agenda in exchange for a lull in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign for war with Iran. Palestine was again sacrificed, this time to bribe a belligerent Israel for temporary good behavior."
And lastly – Haaretz's Ari Shavit also writes Tuesday in the New York Times. Shavit, in a bit more optimistic tone thinks "The old peace is dead, but a new peace is possible."