By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai
Why do I have this feeling that we have been here and done all this before? I know, I know. This US President is different, as different from his predecessors as a sunny day is distinguishable from a dark, oppressive night. But watching Barack Obama shake hands with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York this week and smile for the waiting cameras, I had this weird feeling I have seen it all before.
But haven’t we indeed all seen this before? This is what we have repeatedly witnessed since Bill Clinton proudly presented Yasser Arafat and Isaac Rabin before the world on the White House lawns in 1993. And every time the US leaders did so, they have generated tremendous hopes and hype everywhere, including in the Middle East. And every time those hopes have come crashing down with progressive ferocity, giving way to greater frustration, anger and bitterness that have consumed generations in the Arab world and beyond.
As Obama posed for the cameras with Abbas and Netanyahu flanking him, hundreds of millions of people across the world — and not just Arabs and Muslims — asked themselves: Is this US President going to create more pointless photo opportunities and say all the right things without actually meaning and believing in them like his predecessors? Or is he going to be different as he has often promised and walk the talk for a change?
The answer to this question can be answered by no one but Obama himself. And he can do so not by more rhetoric but action on the ground. We are long past the time for rhetoric and sweet sounding speeches, thank you very much!
I have been following Obama since long before he formally unveiled his impossible dream of a different America and a better world, at a low-key rally one wintry morning near Illinois nearly three years ago.
As regular readers would know, I have been an incorrigible admirer of this extraordinary product of extraordinary circumstances. Some find it odd that even as I have remained critical of the US policies and its double standards in the Middle East, I haven’t stopped singing Obama’s praises.
But I am not alone in this hopeless admiration of the man. He has wowed just about everyone and conquered hearts and minds across the world including those of Muslims with his bold vision and ‘audacity of hope’.
After decades of deceit, double standards and injustice in Washington, his words and his uplifting promise of ‘Change We Can’ came as a refreshing burst of fresh air. His message of hope touched just about everyone.
Even though he is yet to deliver on most of his promises, he has already turned his country and its policies around. While under his predecessor, the US abdicated its responsibilities and walked out of its global commitments, under this President it is offering leadership to the rest of the world, from fighting climate change to pushing for total disarmament to dealing with the global economic crisis.
Just look at the way Obama has in one bold stroke put an end to America’s ridiculous fantasy of the missile defense shield, a relic of the Cold War era, making the NATO irrelevant and our world a more secure place to live in. No wonder the Russian bear is falling over itself in gratitude. He has boldly ventured where none of his predecessors have dared to tread in their first year in office.
He is the first US leader who has had the audacity to identify the source of America’s troubles with the Islamic world and is trying to address it.
George Mitchell was dispatched to the Middle East during Obama’s first week in the White House. The former senator has spent most of his time in the region over the past several months meeting Palestinians and Israelis but clearly he has made no headway.
The Palestinians and Israelis, and with them the rest of the world, remain where they had been six months ago — or six decades ago. But why blame the Palestinians? How can we even put the Palestinians and Israelis in the same bracket?
The poor Palestinians have always been ready to talk with anyone and anywhere, even though they have perpetually been at the receiving end.
The world continues to urge them to offer more concessions and make compromises, even though they have nothing left to offer any more. No land, no home, no country! In case we forgot, they are the victim here. They have nothing to offer any more. They can do little to help further the so-called peace process. The ball lies in Israel’s court. It has been there forever.
The real challenge to Obama, America and the entire civilized world remains Israel and its increasingly intransigent and irresponsible leadership. Netanyahu is even more unreasonable and stubborn than his predecessors.
Unlike his predecessors, Bibi doesn’t even pretend to be interested in inane terms like dialogue, peace process, and just peace. He wants to talk alright — but not about Israel’s stealing of Palestinian land or its persecution of Palestinians. The only issue he is interested in is the “clear and present danger” from Iran’s non-existent nukes.
According to Israel, the only way to promote the Middle East peace is by bombing Iran back to the Stone Age. And it wants the US to do this noble service to mankind, just as it did in the case of Iraq, or before that, in Afghanistan. Forget Palestine. Forget the Middle East and forget the peace process! All that matters is the safety and security of the great state of Israel.
Now it is up to Obama if he wants to make history, as we all once believed he would, or end up as a footnote just as many of his predecessors have. He has a choice to let the status quo in the Middle East continue and stand and stare as Israel’s cat-and-mouse games inflame the Middle East making America a rather inviting target.
This is a more tempting and easier option and this is what his predecessors and rest of the West have done all these years. Or he could do the right thing and save the world – and save his legacy and vision of a better and just world. There’s no time to lose anymore, Mr. Obama! The world is getting impatient for the change you promised us all. And you mustn’t and can’t afford to fail us!
– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.