The word is that Barack Obama is about to lay on the table an updated plan for Israel and Palestine. According to one of Israel's most widely read newspapers, the President will deliver a "speech of greater closeness" to Muslims. http://digital-edition.israelhayom.co.il/Olive/ODE/Israel/Default.aspx?href=ITD%2F2011%2F05%2F12
Will this be another learning experience for the American president at the expense of Israelis and Palestinians?
If conditions seem right for a dramatic gesture, something is wrong with what I know about politics, bargaining, public policy, the Middle East, and other basics of human behavior.
On the other hand, my recent record is not as bad as Barack Obama's:
• Pushing the Palestinians to demand a freeze of settlements, including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem
• Doing what he could to move Hosi Mubarak from power to being put on trial for his life, claiming to advance the cause of democracy, with no signs of any greater success than in the case of his predecessor's effort to democratize Iraq via invasion
• Claims of success in Afghanistan, while professionals in the American military have been saying something else to journalists
• Joining a civil war in Libya, with no clue as to what he is aiding
• Claiming success in a fire fight with the arch demon Osama bin Laden, a day before he admitted that there was little resistance and Americans had killed an unarmed man
• Asserting that Islam is not the problem, while I've lost track of how many Muslim countries are being targeted by American forces
Is now the time to push the Israelis and Palestinians to dramatic heights of effort, while there is rampant or potential chaos in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and nervous concern about instability elsewhere in the region?
My worm's eye view gives me no clues as to the nature of regimes that will prevail in our most powerful and nearest neighbors, i.e., Syria and Egypt.
Sunday is the Palestinians' celebration of the Nakba, what they view as the disaster visited on them by the Jews in 1948. Israel will permit peaceful marches in the style of a democracy that tolerates protest, but is putting security forces on alert to the possibility of something else. That hum above me is most likely an unmanned plane, circling over Isaweea, Shoafat, and other places within shouting distance.
Nakba will be a practice run for other anticipated actions by those who think they have a monopoly on morality. Next will be a flotilla to liberate Gaza. Then the September session of the UN General Assembly, when a large majority of countries will go through the motions of recognizing a state whose borders will include me along with about a half-million other Jews proclaimed as unwanted by the creators of the new state.
Hope springs eternal in the breast of the politician in chief. Europeans and the Secretary of General of the United Nations will join his chorus.
It is not a time to pack our bags. I'm planning to stay, observe, and comment. There should be a lot of action to keep the adrenalin flowing.
So many scenarios are possible. The White House should think about a few.
• Bloodshed as Nakba demonstrations go out of control
• Muslim unrest spreading to the West Bank and/or Gaza, both of which suffer from ineffective and oppressive regimes
• Another intifada directed against Israelis
• Rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon
• Israeli actions, followed quickly by charges of disproportionate responses
• Hair tearing at the General Assembly, Security Council, and White House
Perhaps I have it all wrong. Those of stronger faith may see the American president as the Messiah, capable of bringing peace and cordiality where there has been a century of violence and distrust.
Establishing Davidic roots will be difficult, but who knows what genes found their way to Kansas or East Africa. If Brits can claim descent from the Biblical king for their monarch, why not Americans for this charismatic president?
Should anyone see a white donkey grazing on the White House lawn, I will prepare an apology for all of the above.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem