When Love Was Here for a Royal Visit

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Ari Shavit

This is what he really came for. Yes, U.S. President Barack Obama's visit in the land of Israel has already featured the Iron Dome, the Dead Sea Scrolls and elite technology and will include Yad Vashem and the tombs of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin, and yes, it is chock-full of Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, and characterized by an unprecedented American-Israeli hug. But the bottom line is that the presidential visit thus far was meant to prepare the ground for the 18 minutes on Thursday when Obama spoke about peace.

"Peace is necessary," Obama told his Israeli audience in Jerusalem. "But peace is also just." Then he added the third component: "Peace is possible."

One of the most beautiful poems I know is the one by Israel Pincas whose Hebrew title translates as "When Love Was Here for a Royal Visit." Obama's current visit is a royal visit of love. The most powerful man in the world arrived in the most threatened state in the world to promise love. He gave us love every single second, in every speech and in every gesture.

Still, all this love ultimately led to a poignant comment, a soft admonishment. You cannot continue living as occupiers, Obama told us yesterday. You cannot continue to be the fortress of the settlers. Wake up, Israelis. Connect to your positive side, to the part of you that stems from the divine; abandon your paralysis, rise against your leaders, and determine the future with your own hands.

I have said that I expected Obama's speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center to be a wake-up call. And indeed it was. It put to shame each and every politician, whether old or new, who ran in the recent election. It put to shame the Israeli elite that recently decided to wage war on ultra-Orthodox strongholds like Bnei Brak instead of halting the settlement drive. And it put to shame the Israeli national leadership that dare not face the reality of Israel's situation.

But the wonderful speech did more than reflect the utter wretchedness of local politicians; it reflects a promise for the future. There's a good chance that this wake-up call will change the rules of the local game. It could force Washington to commit Jerusalem to a true peacemaking agenda. It could obligate U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to initiate steps that will destabilize the newly created settler government. It could inspire hope that in the coming years we will deal not only with persecuting anti-Zionist yeshiva students, but also with saving Zionism.

One cannot ignore the naivete of Obama's speech, though. The president in love did not reveal how one overcomes the gaps between the democratic values of Israel and the United States and the values of Middle Eastern Islam. The president must still prove that the peace he promises can actually be implemented. But Obama pointed us in the right direction, and introduced a path of hope. Now it is our duty to set out on our journey. 

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, during his arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013.Credit: AP
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Obama speaks in Jerusalem.Credit: AFP
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Peres awards Obama.Credit: AFP
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Audience at Obama's speech. Credit: AFP

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