Mr. Obama, Have a Talk With These Israelis, and Soon

If you continue on the course you have charted thus far, you are headed directly for a cliff.

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Mr. President,

You have made a determined and vigorous effort to address the Israel-Palestinian impasse with fresh eyes and an admirably low tolerance for cliche.

You have reversed years of inertia and convenient laissez-faire where Mideast peacemaking is concerned. You have based your guiding approach on the only course that can offer a workable solution for Palestinian and Israeli alike, the only framework on which a majority of Jews and Arabs can agree.

And if you continue on the course you have charted thus far, you are headed directly for a cliff.

You are in danger of losing critical support for progress toward a two-state solution. Though you have been president for only six months, you are fast running out of time. Your primary enemy here is not the extremist hoping to blow up or gun down or forcibly squat a prospective peace to death. Your enemies are the clock, a culture which allows peacemaking only at the unlikely opening of a series of windows of opportunity, and, if you do not move quickly, your own inaction.

Simply stated, take your campaign directly to the Israeli people, and soon. Fail to do this, or wait too long, and you'd be well advised to leave the table while you still have chips.

In your open and generous dealings with the Muslim and Arab world, you have demonstrated the one quality which underlies all emotional, political, and cultural transactions in this part of the globe: respect.

It is time - in fact, the time will soon have passed - to take your case to the Israeli people. Not their leaders. Speak to these people, my friends out here in the heat, the people who, ultimately, will make the decision to opt for a future peace.

In seeking to curb settlement, you have chosen the core issue on which the largest number of Israelis may be likely to agree. But, with all respect, you have pursued it in a manner which is least likely to succeed.

Israelis, like their Palestinian cousins, bristle at dictates. Like their Palestinian cousins, Israelis are better at resisting change than initiating progress.

The people here are what matter. The leaders - Palestinian and Israeli both, even Hamas - have no choice but to follow suit.

It was not lost on Arabs and Muslims that George W. Bush, rather than speaking to them, spoke about them, in negative terms, in terms couched as demands, and, in so doing, did them insult.

In refraining from speaking to the Israeli people, in choosing rather to speak about them, you have done them the same injury.

Certainly Israelis, and in particular, their Ashkenazi Sabra leaders, also have much to learn in this regard. In their consummate failures to achieve peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians over the past 13 years, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon have demonstrated ham-handed disregard of etiquette in their relationships with Palestinian leaders and their statements regarding Arab actions and aspirations. The disastrous results speak for themselves.

But this is all the more reason to speak directly to the Israeli people. They are, almost to a one, better than their leaders. Reason with them, be honest and candid with them, charm them, which is to say, be yourself with them. Talk to them face to face and, most importantly b'gova ha'einayim, "at eye level," as fellow human beings.

In the months of your presidency, the windows of opportunity have opened a crack. The prerequisite to any Israeli consideration of meaningful peace talks, a cessation of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, is a reality - for the moment. Israel has begun relaxing untenable restrictions on both the West Bank and Gaza. Don't waste this chance. You may not get another.

The week of your inauguration, I sent you the following piece of unsolicited advice:

"As a calamitous decade in Mideast peacemaking comes to an end, it remains the case that most people on both sides still favor peace, though few on either side still believe in it.

Speak to them. Speak to them directly. Rely less on White House formalities and airport ceremonies and the entire shopworn summer-stock repertoire of visits here and there.

You've shown you know how to run a campaign. Run one here in the Middle East. By satellite, by cable, online. Speak to people in their homes. Bring them a message of real hope.

They'll listen to you. Both sides."


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