Obama's Cairo Speech Signals End of the 9/11 Era

If Israel doesn't adjust itself to Obama, Thursday's speech will be the lightning before the thunder.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

If Barack Obama fulfills even some of the promises he made during his important address in Cairo Thursday, June 4, 2009 will be remembered in world history as the last day of the 9/11 era. Instead of a clash of civilizations, we will have a dialogue of cultures. Instead of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being pushed to the sidelines of the struggle against Islamic terrorism, we will get a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with agreed territorial adjustments, and normalized relations between Israel and the Arab states. Instead of a balance of nuclear terror between Iran and Israel, both of them will be signatories in good standing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Obama's speech was not a collection of empty rhetoric. Before the entire world, he put his signature to a bunch of checks that have deadlines for being cashed. In his talks with his aides in recent weeks, a consensus has emerged that November 2010 - the date of the next congressional elections - should be the target date for realizing the two-state solution. By then, we will know how much of an impression Obama's speech made on Iran's president. Who knows: Perhaps Iranian voters will be convinced that they have before them a U.S. president who is genuinely interested in reconciliation with Islam, and will use their upcoming election to replace their current president with a more conciliatory one. By then, we will also know whom Benjamin Netanyahu is more afraid of - the U.S. president or the chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, Benny Begin or Tzipi Livni.

Alongside many questions, the address provided many exclamation marks. Thursday, the era of formal imbalance in the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Israel and the Arab world gave way to an equilateral triangle. Obama left Egypt with two tablets of the commandments - one for Jews and the other for Muslims. He left no room for doubt: An Israel that continues to discriminate against Palestinians and prevent them from exercising their rights to self-determination and freedom of movement cannot expect affirmative action from the U.S. It is hard to believe that Obama simply forgot to mention the words "Jewish state." The president believes that the nature of the State of Israel is something only the State of Israel can decide.

Obama placed violence against Israel on a par with the settlements and the humiliation of Palestinians in the territories. He spoke in the same breath about the struggle of Palestinians who lost their homes more than 60 years ago and the struggle of African slaves in the U.S. The Israelis could see themselves in the sentence that mentioned the apartheid state of South Africa.

Having granted Israel several weeks to formulate its policy, Obama could not present a detailed program for realizing the two-state solution. However, the two documents that he did mention - the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative - suggest a framework from which there can be no deviation: No more formulas like Resolution 242, whose interpretations vary, or loopholes for continuing the settlement building. Nor is it an accident that he failed to mention "natural growth": He was hinting that if Israel adopts a two-state solution, most of the settlements will become history anyway.

Obama gave Israel the following choices Thursday: Either the conservative Israeli government will adjust itself to the American people's choice in electing a liberal president, or the speech will be the lightning that precedes the thunder.



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