Inspired by the Torah and Jewish history, US President Barack Obama attracted his Israeli audience, who greeted him with enthusiastic applause even when he was emphasising the two-state solution and the right of Palestinians to justice and an independent state. And in Ramallah, he pleased his Palestinian hosts when he said that peace is possible and colonies are unconstructive and not appropriate.
In general, both, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, expressed their satisfaction after their talks with Obama. Yet, a careful observer will have noticed a wide array of reactions especially among Israelis, to the speech delivered in occupied Jerusalem, and how it differed from those among Palestinians in Ramallah, to the statements.
History may inspire and at the same time frustrate. While history dominated in Obamas speech to the Israelis, it disappeared in Ramallah, when he concentrated only on a present full of challenges. This distinction may seem irrelevant. But only when we remember that Obama himself stresses the two-state solution, will this remark not look like a gaffe and instead be a sign which tells us that the American view of the two-state solution is not based on equality. It is quite obvious. The 65 years of the history of the state of Israel, which Obama praised, have only one meaning for Palestinians and Arabs: injustice, massacres, bloodshed and generations of victims. The message for Israelis is inspiring, but for Palestinians and Arabs, history is the opposite: They are to forget this dark chapter.
Nevertheless, the key word in Obamas speech to Israelis was future and without question he was targeting the right people young Israelis. He emphasised the necessity of peace for the existence of Israel and how such a step requires a sacrifice from the Israelis: to accept an independent, viable Palestinian state. However, this rhetoric raises concerns more than it revives hopes, because Obama did not go beyond an old American position based on a serious flaw in this conflict. Israel was founded by a UN resolution, but Obama, by rejecting any role for the UN in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, gives Israel an advantage to buy time as always and evade awarding the entitlements of peace. That has been the story since the mid 1990s.
As for the settlements, Obamas rhetoric sounds like a manipulation of words, because there is a big difference between unconstructive or not appropriate and illegitimate. It would have been appropriate for him to call upon the Israelis to stop building colonies. Although he mentioned the word occupation in his speech, Obama was very keen not to remind Israelis that they were only occupying the lands of the Palestinians, choosing soft words to describe what the international community and international law consider illegitimate.
History reappeared in his visit to the memorial of the holocaust. I wish Obama had asked himself during or after his visit to the memorial a question which the collective memory of the West deliberately forgets: What happened to the surviving victims of the holocaust? Simply, they turned into executioners. While the holocaust and anti-Semitism are exclusively a part of European industry, Palestinians and Arabs have to suffer the costs. That is history as well and at this point, it is obvious that selective reading of history is just another sign of a deep desire to wipe off other chapters in this history.
Back to present and its bitter realities. Can we expect tangible moves towards peace as the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, handles the tough part of the mission? Well, since Obama, for instance, declared that occupied Jerusalem is the historical capital of Israel, he foreclosed on the solutions awaiting Palestinians, if they were to come back to the negotiation table. American diplomats would give many explanations for such a statement to reassure anxious Arabs. But ask, why doesnt this statement sound strange? Because it is absolutely in context if we just remember that the Democratic Party convention last September adopted an article in its election platform recognising occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Such a move has one meaning President Obamas party actually said, To hell with the two-state solution.
Originally published in Gulf News 26 March 2013