OPINION: Will Obama Save The Mideast From Itself?

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With his speech at Cairo University, President Obama has laid the groundwork, potentially, for a new era of peace in the Mideast. Israeli officials are now realizing that they will have to accept a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, there is an indication that the President’s speech is paving the way for waning animosity towards America in the Muslim world, which would undercut the activities of extremist groups that benefit from continued violence, hostility and death in that region of the world.

Well, it is about time. The past administration, whose name I dare not utter for fear it will reappear, paid nothing but lip service to the Mideast. The former president gave a rubber stamp to the status quo, and endorsed Israeli incursions and military strong-arming in the name of the war on terror. That rightwing faux fundamentalist Christian occupant of the White House from 2001 until this past January-and his constituency for that matter-really cared very little about Jewish people. Little that is, except under the fundamentalist concept of the so-called rapture, or end times, in which Jesus returns and Jews who don’t convert to Christianity will supposedly perish, or so the mythology goes. And that is the nonsense that governed Mideast policy for a decade. But I digress…

The Obama speech was a game changer because he accomplished a number of things: he presented a humbler and more contrite America, one which comes to the Muslim world with respect. With that respect, however, came a stern message. Obama discussed the long history of persecution of the Jewish people. Centuries of anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust, including the network of death camps-including Buchenwald, which Obama recently visited-that murdered 6 million Jews. “Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve,” the President emphasized.

Addressing Israel, Obama declared that the growth of the settlements in the West Bank must end. To the Palestinians, he acknowledged their “intolerable” suffering, but suggested that violence will not work. Borrowing from the African American and South African experience, he noted that things changed for Black people not through violence, but fighting for and demanding their rights:

Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now, Obama is what some folks would call a real mensch, which is Yiddish for a man of integrity and honor. He laid it out on the table, seemingly without attachments to the way things were done in the past. Surely, he realizes that U.S. policy towards the Mideast must change, and the country must exert some positive leadership. (Whether Obama decides to resist the urge for a Bush-lite policy with empire building in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains to be seen.)

Palestinians cannot sustain any more of an occupation that crushes the spirit and any sense of civil society, and Israelis can no longer pretend that they will ever feel safe, secure and free as long as they subjugate another people with Bantustans, checkpoints and identity cards. The hardliners, the base of Netanyahu’s coalition government, want nothing less than to keep building the settlements. Will the parties come to their senses and come to the table? Time will tell. “Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed,” as Obama said. “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear.”

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BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service, among others. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson. His blog is davidalove.com.

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