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Obama missing chance for peace by downplaying hope
Saudi Gazette Newspaper, Saturday, March 16, 2013
President Barack Hussein Obama, the first president with an Arab name who some Americans think is a Muslim, will be traveling to the heart of the Middle East conflict this week. Hoping to ease relations with the Muslim world and repair damage caused by his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama made a now forgotten speech at Al-Azhar University in Cairo on June 4, 2009. Rather than waiting for the four-year anniversary of that debacle to make his second trip to the Middle East, Obama is hoping everyone forgets all his past inspirational promises in Cairo.
Obama is going out of his way to downplay what people can expect in terms of Middle East peace between Israel and the Palestinians, touting the less substantive but more populist challenges of addressing Iran and ending the dictatorship of the tyrant Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
An amiable person, Obama is easy to like. I knew him as a local Illinois official when he was in the Illinois State Senate before he became a US Senator. Back then, Obama understood the essence of the Arab-Israel conflict. Or, maybe, he was just a good politician who represented the University of Chicago where many of Chicago’s most vocal Palestinian activists and academics receive their paychecks.
Obama was an inspiring contrast to those leaders like former Vice President Dick Cheney who exploited bigotry and racism to achieve their goals. Maybe that is why Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East expected so much more from Obama.
Sadly, the things that make the most sense in normal life don’t seem to apply either to the Middle East or to American politics. For example, you would think that a moderate who aggressively pursued peace like Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would have been the person to end the lengthy, exasperating conflict.
Instead, Rabin was murdered by a fanatic settler who was a follower of Benjamin Netanyahu, who eventually became prime minister in Rabin’s place. Netanyahu replaced the pursuit of peace with his political brand of do-nothing, selfish politics.
People explained it away saying it took an extremist like former Israeli terrorist Menachem Begin to make peace with his arch-enemy Anwar Sadat of Egypt. “Only a tough Israeli leader can do what needs to be done,” pundits said. Well, as we know, Israeli leaders and their people don’t want to do what needs to be done to achieve a lasting peace. They’d rather have control of the land, than peace, and an endless status quo that can’t make up its mind whether to embrace peace or war.
Most Israelis believe an endless “quasi-conflict” isn’t that bad, as long as they have the stronger military. Better to have all the land and uncertainty than peace and have to compromise. That’s the real wall that Obama faces on his first trip to Israel-Palestine as president.
Maybe he’s going because he can’t take the criticism that he “failed” to visit the Jewish state. Despite being disliked in Israel, American Jews like Obama. American Jews see Obama beyond the narrow focus of the Middle East. But not visiting Israel might have weakened that American Jewish base and opened a door to a Republican president in 2016.
So off Obama goes to Israel with empty pockets and no expectations. His trip ends the criticism of not visiting Israel, even though in Israel’s 65 years of controversial existence as an occupying power, only four of the past 11 presidents before Obama made the trip.
Ironically, if you look at the list of presidents, you might think that those presidents who did not visit Israel did as much for peace as those who did visit Israel. It’s a list worth looking at and examining.
President Harry S. Truman made no visit; Dwight D. Eisenhower made no visit; John F. Kennedy made no visit; Lyndon Baines Johnson made no visit; Richard M. Nixon visited Israel in his second term; Gerald R. Ford made no visit; Jimmy Carter visited Israel in the third year of his presidency to deliver the peace accord with Egypt; Ronald Reagan made no visit; George H.W. Bush, who led the fight against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, made no visit; Bill Clinton made four visits in his two-term presidency; and George W. Bush made two visits to help his Republican Party in the election against Obama.
If you are not bringing peace, why go? It’s about popularity and votes, and it has nothing to do with alleged American virtues like principle, justice or freedom. In the end, the trip can’t help peace. Obama figures he has nothing to lose politically by offering nothing. In politics, “nothing” is always better than “something.” Hope has a high price and high expectations. And that’s risky. It’s a terrible way to look at American presidents, I guess.
Turns out Obama is just another American president who would rather do “nothing” because it is politically safe, than to do “something” that is politically risky, requires courage and likely may not work.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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