Not too late to change course - Obama
Photo: AP

Words aren't enough

Obama has failed to sweep Israelis, Arabs because his message has remained vague

WASHINGTON – Barak Obama has been unable to sweep public opinion in Israel, and not because he did not bother to travel to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or directly address the people. He has failed because his message is vague and it does not enable Israelis to understand what his next steps are, and how exactly we will be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


Obama was elected US president mostly because he knew how to produce what the American public so direly needed: Hope. Yet among Middle East residents, Obama has been unable to produce hope, because he has not presented an orderly plan accompanied by a timetable. Obama said that the two-state vision is the solution. President Bush also said it before him, yet for eight years nothing happened.


Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, boasts that he spent his summer vacations on the beach in Tel Aviv. Yet even he cannot explain to his boss the essence of Israeliness: When you push Israelis into a corner, their response is reflected by two constitutive statements: "I won't be a sucker" on the one hand, and "I'll show you who's the boss" on the other hand.


When Obama pressured Israel and demanded that it curb settlement construction without indicating what the other side needs to do, he failed to move Israelis to his side; not even the ones who support his policy and automatically applaud any peace plan. The more he presses, the more assertive they'll become, while also showing him they won't be the neighborhood's sucker.


This Israeli disdain can easily turn into willingness to face a challenge, even if the price is heavy: Israelis only want to know there's a reason to do it.


Meanwhile, Obama also failed to give hope to the Palestinians and to Arab residents of east Jerusalem: He did not present a message that would prompt people to rally around it, such as what the Palestinian state will look like, what will its relationship with Israel be like, what will security guarantees be like, and what will Mideastern residents gain by backing Obama.


After more than six months in office, his message to the region remains foggy; one that cannot truly be grasped.


A dangerous gamble

Obama is a gifted poker player: He spent his teenage years playing cards in Hawaii, and upgraded his poker skills during college by playing with his classmates and professors. His friends from that period claim that he had a "winning hand," but a poker game in the Middle East is a dangerous gamble: If Obama is keeping his cards close to his chest, he will not be bale to stimulate a sweeping popular movement in a region replete with disappointments, mirages, and empty promises.


But it's not too late. Should the American president soon present a plan that includes a clear framework, he will be able to sweep many people in the Middle East who have tired of war and wish to follow the person who will show them the way. Yet without captivating people's hearts with a plan that would combine dreams and reality, he won't be able to move forward.


Obama needs to present the outline of a solution for the core issues, such as borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. He doesn't need to present a forced solution, but rather, an outline. One Obama speech won't stimulate a change of consciousness in Israel. There are moments in life where words no longer have an effect, even if they are lofty and are uttered in a pleasant baritone voice.


פרסום ראשון: 08.04.09, 23:42
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