A new beginning? Let’s hope
Last week, in a controversial address to the Islamic world from Egypt, President Obama called for “a new beginning” between Americans and Muslims.
We hope so. Defused tension between the Western world and an increasingly polarized and angry Muslim world is the equivalent of E=mc2 in diplomacy.
And as Jews we shouldn’t feel threatened when the president of the United States seeks closer ties with the Islamic world even while talking tough about Israeli settlements. Israel and the United States share an unshakable friendship, and friends sometimes speak frankly with one another.
But to quote a worn out saying, the proof is in the pudding. Let’s review the president’s words:
Speaking from a hall at Cairo University, the president said the bond with Israel is “unbreakable.” Still, more important, he said, that relationship “is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a
Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
This is consistent with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated condition for peace that the Palestinians must recognize a Jewish state, not just a state of Israel, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to do. On this issue, the president has made clear which side he is on.
He acknowledged the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust as well as the Palestinians in their aspirations for a homeland. “Two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive,” Obama said of both sides.
Those words won’t sit well with right-wing Jews who view the Arab world, not just Palestinians, as the aggressors. And there are many credible points they can make. (Will the 800,000 Jews forced from Arab lands ever be compensated for their losses?)
But diplomacy is not a debating game. And if we continue to get stuck in that quagmire, we will condemn too many people to increasingly brutal and intractable warfare.
Most important, he said, “Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people.”
Again, Netanyahu has already made clear he would welcome a Palestinian partner focused on economic growth instead of violent stalemate. Such a partnership is necessary to achieve a two-state solution.
Finally, Obama said that America is not the enemy, and he called upon Americans and Muslims to abandon misshapen stereotypes they have of one another.
These are all great words, but even Obama admitted that one speech will not change everything overnight. It’s a beginning, though — a new beginning as he said — and the Jewish world need not be afraid of it.