Obama visits Israel and speaks of peace in the Middle East

During the 2012 election, Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “an issue (that has) fallen off the map of U.S. foreign policy attention.”

Recently however, President Barack Obama made his first trip as president to Israel where he highlighted the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and revealed his new plan for resolution in the region.

Originally, Obama’s administration approached the issue by asking the Israeli government to cease the development of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They had hoped this would persuade Palestinians to settle on a peace agreement, but because Israel did not halt their building in the occupied regions, Palestine remained unappeased.

“Think about this issue in terms of pizza,” said Director of the Friends Center and Campus Ministry Coordinator Max Carter, paraphrasing American-born Palestinian Sam Bahour’s analogy for the conflict. “Israel and Palestine sit down over a pizza, and they’re trying to decide how to divide it up. As they begin, Israel keeps taking slices while Palestine is trying to figure out which pieces to ask for. Where the conflict is right now, they’re trying to negotiate the 22 percent of the pizza left for Palestine after the Partition Plan of 1947 and the war that followed.”

The various debates over land, ownership and religion have aroused war, terrorist attacks and military occupation for decades.

“No single step is going to erase years of history and propaganda,” said Obama during his speech to the Israeli public at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. “But progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin … It will make a difference.”

The Obama administration hopes to cultivate peace between Israel and Palestine by revitalizing support for the two-state solution.

“Obama reiterated in his Israel speech what he said in his 2009 Cairo speech,” said Guy Ziv, professor at American University’s School of International Service and director of the Israel National Security Project, to The Guilfordian. “The two-state solution is the goal here, and it is important to work toward the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state that will live side by side with the state of Israel.”

Many of the Israelis remain skeptical of the possibility of resolution between the long-warring Middle Eastern states.

“The question is whether there can be real peace here,” Hebrew University student Tzachi Shickman told the Washington Post. “A Palestinian state could bring more attacks on us.”

To quell these concerns, Obama assured more funding for Israel’s anti-missile defense systems and reaffirmed his promise to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Obama restated the United States’ commitment to Israel’s national security several times throughout his speech, and his use of Hebrew phrases meaning “you are not alone” and “it’s good to be back in the land” left some Israelis singing his praises.

“The president captured the hearts of the Israeli people,” said Major General Amos Yadlin, former head of the Israeli Defense Force’s Military Intelligence Directorate and current head of the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies to CNN.

Obama used his trip as an opportunity to rebuild his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after several years of distance caused by Netanyahu’s bypass of the president, followed by the prime minister’s meeting with the U.S.

Congress to undermine Obama’s 2011 appeal to the Middle East. During Obama’s recent trip, the two were seen amicably meeting several times, visiting the sites and laughing together.

While Obama’s message of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process was well-received by the Israeli people, recognition was given to the difficult work that must be done by both Israel and Palestine in achieving this goal.

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