Fresh out of his easy second-term re-election victory over Mitt Romney, who made the issue of Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, President Barack Obama is going to visit Israel. What can we expect from the visit?
Obama is a president who loves drama. After his first election, Obama made a dramatic visit to Cairo where he delivered a moving speech to the Islamic world that he titled “A New Beginning.” In it, Obama argued that Americans and Muslims have much in common and that America has no inherent animosity against Islam, the world’s largest religious group.
Well, tell that to the thousands of anti-Muslim American activists like Pamela Geller, or the many anti-Muslim organizations like Christian evangelical groups, all of whom host thousands of online web sites that promote Islamophobia.
The excitement of the “Cairo Speech” was welcomed by Muslims but the light quickly faded as nothing seemed to be achieved in moving Middle East peace forward. In America, it only fueled the anti-Obama movement which embraces two key assertions against America’s first African American president. The first is that Obama is a Muslim and was not born in America. The second is that Obama is a Muslim and hates Israel (code word for “Jews”).
The animosity in America was so great against Obama it provoked Israel’s rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to openly oppose Obama’s reelection. Obama was vilified because he “failed” to visit Israel during his first term in office. Since President Harry S. Truman, the first president to recognize Israel, only four of the nation’s 11 presidents before Obama had visited Israel and no one attacked the seven who had not. Yet, Obama defeated Mitt Romney in a resounding landslide and exposed how weak Netanyahu really is as an Israeli leader.
The Obama victory pulled the cover off the true basis behind Netanyahu’s power base — Israelis who hate Muslims, covet all of Palestinian land, and would rather have conflict and land over peace and compromise. Obama’s victory did mobilize the dormant Israeli peace movement. Netanyahu took a political beating in the most recent election and his coalition held on to power with a razor-thin edge of 60 out of 120 Knesset seats. Self-described “Centrist,” Yair Lapid, of the new Israeli political party, Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”), took much of the wind out of Netanyahu’s sail. All this begs the question, what does Obama’s visit to Israel really mean? Does it mean Obama is giving Netanyahu an olive branch, maybe thinking about his post-presidential legacy the same way Bill Clinton put his own legacy above a just peace? Does it mean Obama has a secret strategy based on a popular rule of American politics to “keep your friends close but your enemies closer?”
Does it mean Obama is clever, cozying up to Netanyahu using “love” to push Netanyahu to embrace peace and a Palestinian State? Does it mean Obama is using a meeting with Netanyahu as a pretext so he can openly meet and reinforce the feeble Palestinian National Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas? Or, it may mean only that Obama is just a seasoned politician who, in order to move his American domestic policies, needs to brush aside the image that he is “anti-Israel".
The right thing for Obama to do is to push for peace. Force the intransigent Netanyahu to halt illegal settlement expansion, and dismantle most if not all the settlements. End the illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and recognize a Palestinian State.
Obama can’t push Israel too hard without risking how he will be viewed by history years from now. Maybe Obama knows that no matter how hard he pushes, Israel just isn’t interested in real compromise with Palestinians.
Israel has everything it could ever want: Control of all of historic Palestine; billions of dollars in American funding that only comes when it is in a state of conflict; and a nuclear arsenal that makes it one of the greatest military powers and greatest threats in the Middle East region.
Politically, Palestinians can’t seem to leverage the justice of their cause against the ineffectiveness of their political leadership. Maybe, the only reason Obama wants to visit Israel is to see the Holy Land sites, pray at the Church of the Nativity and convince Americans that he really is a “Christian” after all. The “Christian thing” to do would be to stand up for justice and push for Palestinian rights. In that respect, Obama may not be Christian enough.
Ray Hanania is an Arab-American Palestinian Christian journalist, professional communicator, media consultant, author, standup comedian, satirist, filmmaker, radio talk show host. He covered Chicago City Hall for 16 years from 1976 through 1992, including every Chicago Mayor "from Daley to Daley." He is a two-time winner of Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick-O-Type Award. In 1990 he was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times as Pulitzer Prize candidate.