A great deal of presidential speechwriter wisdom and virtuoso skills were invested in Barack Obama’s “ask your leaders for peace” speech in Jerusalem. In summary: “And let me say as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see,” he said.
Obama has left, the Passover holiday has passed, and the spring that Secretary of State John Kerry will grant Israel is short. In the meantime, only a question is left: Who was the president referring to when he said “political leaders will not take risks”?
Obama mentioned eight leaders and one writer in his speech. None of them are put off by risks; the opposite in fact. He quoted the promise of the first he mentioned in his speech, Martin Luther King Jr. − Obama’s inspiration − that a dream can be realized and even if he himself may not get there, “we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The second was President Harry Truman. A few minutes after the State of Israel was declared, Obama noted, Truman decided to recognize the new state because Israel “has a glorious future before it − not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”
Later on he spoke of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, “brave leaders [who] reached treaties with two of your neighbors.” And he quoted Ariel Sharon as saying: “It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.”
Author David Grossman also received presidential honor when Obama quoted him: “A peace of no choice,” he said, “must be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice.” Think about Obama’s choice of Grossman’s words, as the author said them shortly after losing his son.
David Ben-Gurion likewise was not forgotten, nor were Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, “true partners” over the past few years.
Eight leaders and a writer. Men of trailblazing vision, brave and steadfast, focused on the goal and taking risks − who stood in front of their people without fear. They lead and were not led, they pulled people behind and were not carried away themselves.
And so Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced to take real actions so his name can appear on the list of politicians worthy in Obama’s opinion of being called leaders. It is the quote Obama brought from Ben-Gurion that actually hints, though he doesn’t seem to have great hopes for − if at all. Ben-Gurion didn’t star in Obama’s speech with his hackneyed quote: “I don’t know what the people want and what they don’t want. I only know, it seems to me, what the people should want.” But Obama chose to quote Ben-Gurion saying: “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”
It doesn’t seem to me that Obama believes in miracles. I think he came to Israel because he doesn’t believe in them. To tell us, the Israelis, that the responsibility for making peace is on the shoulders of the government of Israel and its leaders − and that we must demand it from them. And if this does not happen, no miracle will happen for us and the fury of the Middle East will be on our heads. And if to explain all that, he had to come to Jerusalem and awarded his listeners with a virtuoso performance of a speech, then why not? The American president is a virtuoso.
Kerry has returned for another round of talks between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Another round, another two or three, and if he does not manage to restart the negotiations − the noble gesture to the woman, her beautiful children and her husband carrying his suit coat will evaporate. We will be left with a virtuoso speech from an American president, Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech gathering dust, and false promises of “two nations for two peoples.” And we will remember that the spring here is so short, as David Grossman once wrote.