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By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
The peace process is unlikely to be revived with a presidential visit. Facing hardened attitudes in Israel and Palestine President Obama may have to assume a pastoral role.
In the fourth week of March, Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. The U.S. Ambassador to Israel has announced the agenda for this event: discussions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria’s chemical weapons and ideas for the stalled peace talks.
If the agenda is too focused on dealing with Iran and Syria as “emergencies” to be merely “contained” or stopped, this visit will not allow for serious consideration of options of reconciliation.
Coming thirty-six years earlier, Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem may inspire Obama’s. The dramatic gesture of the late Egyptian president changed attitudes. The magical ingredient was addressing the human factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israelis expect words of reassurance from the visit of the US president. Israel faces changing and threatening circumstances, near and far. Obama will offer the most comforting of words in Jerusalem. He will no doubt reassure the people of America’s unwavering support and he may add that the Jewish state deserves full acceptance from its neighbor states.
Obama should also affirm that Palestinians too deserve a viable state. The security of the two peoples is interdependent.
The president could urge the people of Israel to ponder their future with piercing vision as demography, ideology and regional alliances continue to shift.
He could assert that if the occupation is non-sustainable the people must urge their statesmen to take measurable degrees of risk for peace. If Israelis wish to transform Palestinians to become full partners for reconciliation they must reinforce their sense of entitlement to their land.
The president has to restate his personal conviction -- what in fact is US policy since 1967-- that continued building of settlements is an impediment to peace.
On his short stops in the West Bank and Jordan Obama must assert that Palestinian disunity immeasurably weakens their case.
Pressing on, he could clarify that Palestinians can unite only on a peace platform.
He could encourage Palestinians to deliver a message to the hearts and minds of Israeli people.
Could the Palestinians unite and offer a statement of full acceptance to Israel? They would need to affirm unanimous acceptance of the state of Israel. They need to visualize no limits for the dividends of a full settlement between Arabs and Israel. The Palestinian leadership could affirm that in normalizing relations with Arabs, Israel will certainly not only prosper, it will serve as a major contributor to the development of this resourceful region.
In addressing the two sides, Obama must offer a bifocal message: Arabs must stop looking at Israel as a thorn in their skin, and Israelis must dispense with the notion that its adversaries are not suitable partners for peace.</