Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Real Test of Obama

Let's Talk: President Obama making the historic speech in Cairo

Is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu following in the footsteps of American President Barack Hussein Obama? Ten days after Obama’s address at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, Netanyahu delivered a speech at the Begin-Sadat Center of Bar-Ilan University in Israel where he laid down his vision to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. One may not agree with his flawed vision but one thing is certain that Netanyahu’s speech was in response to Obama’s castigation of Israel. Then shall we consider it as a step in the right direction? Yes and no.

“I strongly support the idea of regional peace that he (Obama) is advancing”, Netanyahu said on June 14. “I share the President of the U.S.A’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region.”

Although his speech was full of flaws, this kind of language has never been used by an Israeli Prime Minister. When was the last time an Israeli prime minister used the word ‘peace’ 32 times in a single six-page speech? We do not hold the view that uttering the word ‘peace’ again and again can bring peace in the Middle-East but there is a fundamental shift in perception-management by the Jewish State of Israel and we have no doubt that this is the result of President Obama’s speech.

Any peace-loving person would be enraged after reading Netanyahu’s speech because apart from the word ‘peace’ which has been used as a camouflage, there is not much in it. The change in lingual tone was to please American President Obama and dullards in United States who believe Israel is committed to the idea of peace. Netanyahu has very carefully pushed the conditional ball of peace in Obama’s court. He wants a “demilitarized” Palestine.

“I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state”, he said in the speech.

Even if one assumes that Palestinians recognise Israel as the “Jewish State”, is it possible for any State or country in the world to be “demilitarized?” Any such condition or assumption will be akin to living in fool’s paradise. Even Maldives, one of the smallest countries in the world with a population of 3, 40,000, has a National Defence Force to defend the security and sovereignty of the country.

Now the real test and truthfulness of President Obama’s Cairo speech lies in just one aspect of Israel-Palestine conflict. How Obama returns the conditional ball of peace in Netanyahu’s court remains to be seen. Obama must ponder over this issue with clarity of mind and conscience. How he deals with this condition will prove to be a litmus test. His decision can make or break America’s relationship with the Muslim World. If Obama wants to win over Muslims hearts and minds, then he must reject any such condition outright.

Netanyahu also warned that the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas. Perhaps Netanyahu has forgotten that Hamas is democratically-elected body of Palestinians. If Netanyahu wants Palestinians and Arabs to recognise the Jewish State of Israel then he must also recognise Hamas as a genuine political and military force in the region.

One common feature in both Obama and Netanyahu’s speech was the language of economics. With world economy looming under crisis, both know that to overcome this depression, Muslims all over the world needs to be involved because of their large population.

Action speaks louder than words. Both Obama and Netanyahu would want us to believe that this Century is going to be the Century of peace and dialogue. Their words must be matched by substantive acts. They also understand that the Muslim world is going through twilight-phase where one world is dead and another is waiting to be born.

Sunday Inquilab, June 21, 2009

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