The Prometheus Speech

U.S. President Barack Obama is like Prometheus: bound, his torch extinguished. Like him, that tragic Greek hero was a friend to humanity, and even gave it fire.

It wasn't a bad speech, it wasn't a good speech. It was just another empty speech. Above all, it was a sad, depressing occasion.

The depression is from the speaker, not the speech. Not only is there gray in his hair after three tortured years in office; his voice reveals frustration and disappointment in nearly every sentence. The man who stood at the rostrum in the UN General Assembly was not Barack Hussein Obama, but rather the man who used to be Obama, only recently.

In his previous appearances - in Cairo two years ago, in Congress six months ago - he still had a dream. But yesterday the magic was gone, the vision had dissipated and only the realpolitik remained. The message was "there is no shortcut," as though anything that has gone on for 44 years could be called short. Sad. Sad and dismal. "Israelis can be pleased," the commentators in the prime minister's entourage said in broadcasts from New York. So why are we so worried?

The leader of the superpower, the great warrior for human rights, for justice, liberty and democracy for all people, yesterday looked and sounded like any other head of state who wants much and is capable of little. Instead of hope, we received the stubble of the field. It's hard to be mad at him, this good man whose intentions are good, who has already been led to hell. But it is harder to see him impotent, a hero shorn of his tresses and his power. Can God strengthen him, only this once?

The speech was not interrupted by applause, nor did the audience rise to its feet when it was over. In fact, only one delegation among the general apathy derived any pleasure from it. While the previous General Assembly focused on Iran's nuclear program, turning the international spotlight on its dark corners, this time it was shunted aside. Who really cares about it, after all? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can rub his hands in glee; others are doing his work. This time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting all the attention. So sad, and so dangerous.

Obama called for the international community to support the Arab Spring; it's only the Palestinian winter he has trouble shortening. He is helpless in the face of the reckless coalition of Rick Perry, Avigdor Lieberman and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Just one year ago, from the same rostrum, he promised a Palestinian state within a year, at most. His wings have been clipped since then, and even his speeches do not soar as they once did: His heart dares not reveal what his mouth longs to say.

The president is like Prometheus: bound, his torch extinguished. Like him, that tragic Greek hero was a friend to humanity, and even gave it fire. Obama gave Israel everything it wanted, but the gods in the Olympus of Jerusalem punish him, as if he were their enemy; they assail him with thunder and lightning.

And that is the Israeli tragedy. Would that, against all odds, Obama could win a second term; then he would get back at them, and it would be good for us.

Meanwhile, here, far from there, near the Qalandiyah checkpoint, in the first clashes between protesters and soldiers, a teenager has lost his eye to a bullet. He joins the long line of Israelis and Palestinians who will never see the birth of the Palestinian state, or who will see it with only one eye.