Obama’s Arab world speech is well-timed

Robert C. Johnston.


PRESIDENT Obama’s landmark speech to the Arab world is well-timed. In the Middle East and North Africa there is a great wave of change sweeping through the hearts of their people. We have seen America’s measured, multilateral, and UN-heeding response in Libya that is providing hope to those who seek freedom from tyranny. US flags have been waved in cities in which until recently they would have been expected to burn. And, despite the right or wrongs of how it was done, Bin Laden is out of the picture. It’s a new era.

These recent events suggest that there is a tectonic shift taking place in the region, where rejection is making way for tolerance. Where fresh, positive leadership may rise and venture forth, out of the social media revolution.

Why, then, shouldn’t there also be hope for the Israeli-Palestinian relationship? Failure may have been expected in the past but that does not mean it should be accepted in the future.

There are key moments in history which can either be grasped or let slip and this is one of them. Reconciliation is possible, at least in the form of a two-state solution. Indeed, the status quo cannot, and should not, continue. In his speech, Obama gently implies that Israel’s refusal to acknowledge a two-state solution equates to a form of tyranny.


It is in the Palestinian Authority’s interests to distance itself from Hamas. Palestinian leadership must recognise Israel’s right to exist, and of course Israel has a right to feel secure. But the Israeli government also must realise that the best way to achieve this security is to allow the Palestinians, with UN assistance, to feel secure in their own homeland.

Yes, there is the potential that extremist groups may continue to target Israel, and those responsible should be brought to justice. But the actions of small groups of extremist minorities should not be seen as a representation of every Palestinian. History tells us that a disproportionate response tends to only increase the likelihood of hatred, and thus of further violence.

Continued Israeli encroachment on contested territories simply leads to perpetual insecurity on all sides. It’s got to stop. Perhaps the recent social media revolution has a real chance of finally getting this message across. And although Obama’s 1967 borders will in reality need considerable adjustment, there is nothing wrong with a little tough love to a friend.

Most of the challenges to the peace process could actually be overcome with considerable swiftness, if strong Israeli and Palestinian leaders could muster the courage and humility to stand together and change history for the better.

When it comes down to it, the most complex consideration, and most problematic, will be what to do with Jerusalem. Both sides claim it as their rightful capital. Should one side just ‘let it go’? Should it be divided? Should it have separate jurisdiction, like the Vatican? Should it be administered by the United Nations? There is no easy solution. In any case, the city has deep historical, cultural, and religious significance, and should be accessible to all.

The responses to Obama’s speech have thus far been as predictable as ever. Let’s just hope that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership realise that, like it or not, they will have to compromise and work together to secure peaceful, prosperous, and free futures for their children and their children’s children. The rest of the world, and I assume most Israelis and Palestinians, are tired of excuses. This, of all moments in history, could be the moment.

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