Obama's visit to Israel and Palestine may have been a subtle but determined new attitude towards restarting the moribund peace negotiations. No guarantees, and hopefully not another case of misguided hope, but theAmerican President made it clear that no separation wall and no missile protection system offers long term solutions.
The expectation bar for Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and Palestine was deliberately set low, but perhaps there was a deliberately subtle, and perhaps risky new strategy towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
On the face of it, unlikely, but digging deeper, just maybe.
A president on a symbolic visit to a region (troubled by his own country’s serial interference and inability to play honest broker), in order to “listen” while mayhem reigns all around, did not inspire.
The President’s spin team made it very clear he did not go armed with a plan for the rebooting of the moribund so-called peace process. No Roadmap in his back pocket.
Obama did not go to publicly bully his new buddy Bibi into stopping the illegal settlement construction that is gobbling up the land that is supposed to be the future Palestinian state.
He did not go to offer anything tangible to the beleaguered Palestinians now in their 46th year of existence under Israeli military occupation.
In short, Obama appeared determined to make this trip in order to make his own peace with Israelis - a fair chunk of whom think he is on the side of the Palestinians and does not like Israel.
In order to do that he reinforced the position of God as a real estate broker for the Jews, the ‘moral’ contract for their state of Israel being the Bible. Try waving that in court as evidence.
Obama praised Israeli entrepreneurship, business acumen, Nobel brains and many other realities of the wealthy, highly militarised nuclear armed garrison state.
For the Palestinians it was little more than a drive-by - well fly over - as the myriad of armed checkpoints with their excruciating waits, stock control-like cages and ritual humiliations are not for presidents. It is to be hoped that from the air Obama recognised the Bantustanization of the occupied Palestinian Territories and they had more of an impact on him than the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina had on George W. Bush.
“You’re doing on heck of a job Bibi” is true for all the wrong reasons.
Obama laid a wreath at the graves of Zionism’s founder Theodor Herzel and the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, but not at the tomb of the Palestinian leader who worked with Rabin for peace. It is so easy to sideline Yasser Arafat as the bad guy and forget the it was he who made the monumental sacrifices of renouncing violence as a PLO strategy, recognized Israel’s right to exist, and accepted that the future Palestinian state would comprise of just 22% of Mandate Palestine.
In Palestine Obama reminded Palestinians that they needed to make sacrifices in order to secure a state of their own. Really.
I was fired up to write Obama off as a toady at that point of his trip.
Then he went back to Israel and delivered one of his ‘can’t tear yourself away from the telly’ speeches to a group consisting mainly of Israeli students.
The beginning of the speech laid the groundwork by oozing empathy for Israel’s security needs which will be met by US dollars in iron domes and prevention - not containment - of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, should Iran actually decide to develop a nuclear weapon.
He drew them in. Then he pounced, and he did it to an unexpected volume of applause and regular standing ovations - albeit not from the entire audience.
Obama went off his prepared speech, which would have been scary for him given his addiction to the autocue.
He told young Israelis of his discussions with young Palestinians “just like you”. He told them he knew that Israeli parents speaking to these young Palestinians would want them to succeed. He asked that Israelis put themselves in the shoes of the Palestinians - living under occupation with every movement determined by the Israeli military, farmers cut off from their lands and livelihoods, and a population suffering violent attacks by the illegal Jewish settlers - attacks which go unpunished.
Obama went over the heads of the politicians to deliver a message to Israelis, and in particular the young Israelis who will have to live the consequences of the decisions their political ‘leadership’ (a word used advisedly in this context) makes in the very near future.
Obama’s message was disingenuous in that he referred to the promise of a Jewish democratic state. As a constitutional lawyer he knows that you can’t have a democracy based on the exclusion of anyone but a certain class - race or religion.
The counter-punch however was if the status quo of continued occupation and colonization continues there will be no Jewish state at all because there will be no Palestinian state.
If Israel pursues the original Zionist dream of having all of Ersatz Israel to itself, it will end up with nothing but a single state with an Arab majority given current demographics. That will present the world with the dilemma of Apartheid South Africa II.
Expulsion or annihilation of Palestinians are not viable options.
Obama said Israel is not going anywhere soon. Neither are Palestinians who resist occupation simply by remaining on their lands.
As Obama told Israelis, “no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy”.
Israelis, Palestinians and the world got the soaring rhetoric, but it was delivered against a backdrop of soaring illegal Jewish settlements.
Obama didn’t present a plan, but maybe he set a new tone. Maybe he reframed the approach to peace and word is that Secretary of State John Kerry may have some moves to make in the next few days.
What Obama should have had in his briefcase is a copy of Dror Moreh’s riveting documentary ‘The Gatekeepers’, and he should have demanded that Netanyahu and Abbas sit down with him and watch it...over and over again if necessary for the message to sink in.
The interviews with six former heads of Israel’s notorious Shin Bet security/spy force present the raw reality of the failed occupation. The message is peace will never be won by violent repression of the Palestinian people. That’s quite some admission from the torture and targeted assassination machine that Shin Bet actually is.
Admissions include that Israel has become a cruel people and its occupation which is brutal has to stop; Israel may win every battle but it is losing/will lose the war; the occupation has failed Clausewitz’s dictum that victory is a better political reality; that Israel squandered opportunities when the Palestinians moved in good faith but Israel did not reciprocate.
These men who headed an organization determined to stop Palestinians terrorists can, in retirement, see that for Palestinians Shin Bet was itself a terror organization - one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Perhaps most revealing is that without exception, they supported the two state solution.
The newly formed hodge-podge Netanyahu coalition gives no reason for optimism that two states will emerge.
The former Shin Bet leaders, and the visiting American however know that if there are not two states there will eventually be one state and in order for it to be democratic, it will not be a Jewish state.
It is to be hoped that behind the scenes Obama made that point very clearly to the man he now slaps on the back and calls “Bibi”.
In The Gatekeepers, the Bibi of 1993-6 is seen clearly rousing the uncompromising Right on Israel’s political spectrum.
Circa March 2013 Obama, the former civil rights lawyer, is seen failing to demand his ally conforms to international law and commitments.
The window is closing fast. Let it not be yet another case of plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. Currently it is.