Saturday, June 6, 2009

And, He's Left-Handed

I know I am going to take some heat for some of what I am about to write. However, a theme in President Obama's speech in Cairo this week refuses to fade from consciousness and gives me the courage to proceed:

It is time to discuss in public what everyone acknowledges in private.

President Obama was referring to the inevitability of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, requiring Arab nations to accept Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish State and requiring the Israelis and their supporters to accept the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. The president was stating the obvious. There can be no peace in the Middle East without such bilateral acceptances.

Unfortunately, until now, no would-be mediator has been successful in pursuing the obvious. By voting for change, we elected a president who is willing to shout to the world that the Emperor wears no clothes and to force all parties to the debate to move on to a level of negotiations that is not based on unrealistic underlying assumptions used as if they were legitimate bargaining chips. The Arabs cannot extract concessions from the Israelis by agreeing to recognize Israel. The Israelis cannot take credit for agreeing to an independent Palestine on their border. After President Obama's speech in Cairo, those entitlements became the starting blocks of the negotiations, not interim goals to be achieved. In effect, President Obama was telling the parties, if we cannot move on from those starting blocks, we can't move on. No starting blocks, no race.

What a difference an administration makes! The eight years that ended on January 20, 2009 were marked by public policies, or a lack thereof, that were first vetted with an eye towards the political implications. Politically untenable positions were generally discarded. Worse, the politics pursued were those of a right-wing ideology. The right-wing base that financially supported, and vociferously shored up, the last administration had effective veto power over any proposal that did not fit within their view of America.

Consider the debate over immigration policy. President Bush's rare practical position that recognized that we were not going to be able to return 11 million "illegal" residents from Mexico as a starting point of immigration reform was shouted down by the Far Right, accusing the president of promoting a general amnesty for Mexican scufflaws and their nursing children. The president's proposal to initiate immigration reforms was merely stating publicly what everyone acknowledged privately. Eleven million illegals were staying put. But W lacked the independence, credibility and leadership capability to dismiss his opposition.

Not so with the new president as he addressed the world. He signaled that from now on, there would be honest discussions exploring peace in the Middle East. Not "easy", "honest". He did so without clearing his remarks with other members of his political party. He proclaimed the obvious regardless of the political consequences he knew would follow from the response of the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). He insisted that Hamas relinquish its policies of hatred and violence against Israel that the organization has so effectively utilized to maintain political control and distract its constituency from demanding a government that addresses basic societal needs.

The implications of such forthrightness are striking. I am not naive enough to think that political considerations are ignored in the Obama Administration. But the willingness to do the right thing in spite of anticipated political fallout, and the demonstration of faith that the American public has the maturity and intelligence to respond to an honest discussion of the challenges facing us, gives me much hope for the future of our country with President Obama at the helm.

Our new president personifies leadership, not gamesmanship. He relies on thoughtfulness and pragmatism, not demagoguery. He has taken some very tough positions.

Witness the shockwaves resulting from the paradigm shift in the American auto industry implemented by President Obama. There is a lot of short term collateral damage to working class families all across the country as a result of the Obama Administration's gameplan for "saving" General Motors. In fact, I am not sure I agree with everything that has been done. But, and it is an important "but", I am willing to be proven wrong because I have a sense that the Obama Administration is addressing a very difficult situation with the best of intentions and not as a means of furthering a political viewpoint.

Nothing comparable to The Patriot Act has been generated in response to the threats to our national security posed by imminent financial collapse. Public debate has not been muzzled. Government decision-making has been significantly more transparent than ever before.

We finally have a president who, faced with unprecedented challenges on every front, realizes he does not have the luxury of either time or multiple chances at success to allow himself to squander opportunities to find solutions. He will not engage in doublespeak; he will not ignore in public what "the deciders" acknowledge in private. The president's resulting popularity, even in these difficult times, shows just how hungry Americans are for such rare candor.

In terms of Middle East peace, it will take many more speeches. It will take international acceptance of President Obama's pragmatic, wise, no nonsense approach. There are parties at the negotiating table whose personal agenda is enhanced by the continuation of the hostilities. But, by continuing to discuss in public what everyone acknowledges in private, the larger Israeli and Arab communities can now bring pressure to bear on the peace process and use the growing weight of public opinion to fashion a more selfless resolution.

To be continued . . .


Elf said...

Hear, hear!

Mallary said...

Oy, oy, oy Sam. Well written and thoughtful as always, but I think you're putting too much faith into someone who is either genuinely naive (or personally doesn't really care) about Israel, and is only interested in pushing his own agenda without weighing the risks to the one country upon which he is trying to force his will.

BOTTOM LINE: until the Arabs of the Middle East (and the rest of the world) accept that Israel has the right to exist as an independent, democratic (small d ;-)), Jewish state there will never, ever be a hope for peace and stability in the Middle East. THAT is the clearest truth of all. Obama can give speeches and make proclamations until the next U.S. president replaces him, but the only change is that Israel's enemies now think they bear even less responsibility to seek peace or negotiate, and have the backing of the US president.

Shame on Obama for imposing suicidal solutions on Israel while namby-pambying to Iran while it gets closer and closer to realizing its dream of annihilating Israel with its almost-ready-to-use nuclear weapons. Shame on him for not dictating to Abbas - the 'great peace partner' (aka Arafat in a suit) who is salivating while he waits for hundreds of millions of American dollars to squander - that you must stop broadcasting hatred of Israel and Jews, and no longer praise murderous 'martyrs' on your state-run television and radio stations and in your official newspapers; tell your people that dancing and throwing candies when Jews and Americans are murdered is unacceptable and intolerable; and change your textbooks, maps and official policies to reflect the acceptance of the existence and permanence of the State of Israel.

As Charles Krauthammer so astutely noted this week: "President Obama repeatedly insists that American foreign policy be conducted with modesty and humility. Above all, there will be no more "dictating" to other countries. We should "forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions," he told the G-20 summit. In Middle East negotiations, he told al-Arabiya, America will henceforth "start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating." An admirable sentiment. It applies to everyone -- Iran, Russia, Cuba, Syria, even Venezuela. Except Israel. Israel is ordered to freeze all settlement activity. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton imperiously explained the diktat: "a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions." (My note: This from the woman - at the time First Lady - who embraced and kissed Suha Arafat after she proclaimed in a speech that the Israelis were poisoning Palestinian children.)

It saddens me, and in a way frightens me, that much of American Jewry seems willing to support a Middle East policy that offers no serious consequences to those that would seek Israel's destruction.
I love you, Sam, but I can't agree with you this time. Nor can I understand why anyone would think that Obama is a friend of Israel. He's not. His advisors are, for the most part, not. And because they're not, the security and continued existence of the Israel that I and many others love is now at greater risk than ever before.

!עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי

(BTW, left handed people were once considered to be evil; one of the definitions of the word 'sinister' is : "of or on the left side; left.")

Charles Leck said...

Wonderful blog, Sam. Wonderful!

One of your readers makes a rather "left-handed" comment and I don't get all he's trying to say, but I believe a part of his brain in calling Obama evil.

Stand tall, Sam, for you are correct in your underlying thesis here: "There can be no peace in the Middle East without such bilateral acceptances (of a sovereign Palestinian State and an Independent Israeli State)."

Yes, Sam, this President is a leader and it is awfully refreshing. There are dangers in what he is doing, but we are all tired of doing nothing.


oldman.denver said...

thank you, sam,
it seems too hard for most american jews to criticize any isreali policy. i grew up worshiping the existance of isreal; but for the last 20 years i have not been able to close my eyes to the reversal of roles adapted by isreal...
it has become the aggressor nation; the torchurer; and the expansionist government.
i have become ashamed of isreal's practices...when i remember the many thousands of dollars raised by and contributed by my dad for the u.j.a. (united jewish appeal)over decades, i am sad.
and it could change, so easily...well, maybe not easily, but it could change...many, if not most isrealis want peace, and are willing to work for it...i'm afraid most american jews have a superficial view of what it will take to earn peace.
sam, it takes moxie to stand with obama and to challange the isreali, anti-palistinian, foreign policy...keep up the hard work, fred

Anonymous said...

There is a two state solution and the other state is called Jordan. The only justification for the state of Israel is the G-d gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. This was the reason Harry Truman used in l948 for ratification of the existence of the State of Israel. Israel's neighbors refuse to recognize the existence of the state of Israel, and one cannot make peace with someone who does not even recognize your right to exist.