It’s as if U.S. President Barack Obama did the least he had to. He “rebuked” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That’s not how a president with star power acts. That is not how a superpower does things. America is again falling down on the job, and Obama is betraying his mission and the promise of his presidency.
True, it’s an anomaly that the United States wants a peace settlement more than the hawkish parties to the conflict, but the leader of the free world has a crucial role, and he is not fulfilling it. Nine months after Obama assumed the presidency, precious time has been totally wasted, in the Middle East at least, and suspicions are growing that the promise of his presidency is on the wane, even if the man is attractive and uproariously funny on David Letterman. Laugh, laugh, but ultimately, where are the results?
Beautiful speeches like the one last night at the UN General Assembly are no longer enough. Being America means enjoying numerous international privileges, but also involves a few obligations. One of them is to look after world peace. Just as it set off for war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of global goals, however dubious, and just as it is working to prevent a nuclear Iran, America is also obligated to act to settle the Middle East conflict. That is not its right but its obligation. Locals don’t want its services in either Iraq or Afghanistan, but America is shedding its own blood there nonetheless. Why? Because it believes this is essential to world security.
When he was elected, President Obama declared that the Middle East conflict was endangering world peace. Nothing is more true. The potential danger between Jenin, Gaza and Jerusalem is no less serious than that in the killing fields of Kandahar and Mosul. But what is the president doing to eliminate the fuel that feeds international terrorism? Or at least to show that he is doing something? He ruins nine whole months over the issue of a construction freeze in the settlements, and even that pathetic goal was not achieved.
It has to be one way or the other: Either Obama thinks a solution to the conflict isn’t a worthy goal and so should get out of the picture and devote his energies elsewhere or he means what he said and must use all his power and act. Meanwhile, instead of change, we have gotten distressing continuity. Instead of “yes we can,” we have gotten “no we can’t.”
Obama needs to turn things upside-down and break with convention. That’s why he was elected. Two decisive steps would change things completely: an American effort to introduce Hamas into the negotiations and pressure on Israel to end the matter of the occupation. Simplistic? Perhaps, but the complex and gradual solutions haven’t gotten us anywhere up to now. Like it or not, without Hamas peace is not possible. The fact that Obama has put his trust only in Abbas’ Fatah has guaranteed failure, which was foreseeable. History has taught us that you make peace with your worst enemy, not with those who are seen as collaborators by their own people.
You also don’t make peace with half a people, in half of the territory. Obama didn’t even try to break this unnecessary spell and automatically went, unbelievably, down the path of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The president who was willing to engage North Korea and Iran and dares Venezuela and Cuba didn’t even think about entering negotiations with Hamas. Why is it okay to talk to Iran but not to Hamas? Obama, too, thinks Hamas is fit for negotiations only over the fate of a single soldier, Gilad Shalit, but not over the fate of two peoples.
The second step, which is no less essential, is applying pressure on Israel. Given Israel’s total dependence and in the face of its blindness to the price of the occupation, Obama’s friendship with Israel is actually to be judged by the steps he would seemingly take against Israel. As Israel’s isolation in the world only grows, and the danger of Iran threatens the country, Israel’s best friend must pressure its ally and save it from itself. Instead, we got another condemnation of the Goldstone Commission report, this time from the new American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who had held the promise of major change.
It’s not too late. True, the initial momentum has been lost, but now, following this week’s “summit of rebukes,” America must hurry up and rebuke itself and mainly ponder how to get out of the booby trap to which it has succumbed. Now, too, only America can (and must) do it.