Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama In Cairo: Going Meta

Immediately after President Obama's speech, Israeli television interviewed a strapping West Bank settler: "It was very professional," he said, "very well crafted. It focused brilliantly on the rights of man. But he also quoted the Talmud; and if he read that, then he knows that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel."

This curious response suggests why, yet again, Obama's instincts are better than mine.

You see, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is full of people like this. In the end they will have to be confronted. But though the end cannot be allowed to seem far away, the end is not the beginning. Why push people into a corner before showing them the corner--before showing them also the people who will be pushing with you? Why not take things in their natural sequence which allows everybody to adjust to the new reality?

Obama's problem, however, was that if he didn't do something dramatic, he ran the risk of losing the people he would need for his coalition even before he began to rally them--because so many presidents have made promises in the past (condemned settlements, called for a two-state solution) and then remembered something better they had to do. Obama, I thought, should not miss this chance to issue some concrete warning or present the elements of a concrete plan--something vivid to stand for the sincerity of his intention--to reassure people who had heard it all before, especially the people in the streets from Casablanca to Islamabad, who were after all the point of the exercise.

Of course there was another way to prove his sincerity, which hadn't really occurred to me. It was to frame the whole problem in such a subtle and honest--and vivid--way that nobody hearing the speech could doubt his sincerity; to go meta on the problem and make his intentions clear to anyone (that settler included, obviously) without needing to make threats or draw up plans. (The final deal is obvious, anyway.)

And it was foolish of me not to anticipate this solution, since this is exactly what he did with his speech on race. Obama is many things, but I'm coming to understand that he is, almost more than anything else, a natural teacher. He knows how to start from where his audience is and connect the dots. He knows the ring of truth. (Just to be sure, I called a couple of Palestinian friends who were skeptical when Obama was elected. They were deeply impressed--certainly enough to stay in the "process.")

The speech did have a few innovations, moreover, which were moving in the elegant way they broke taboos. Obama not only spoke about the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but did so in a way that laid the ground for eventually getting nuclear weapons out of the entire region, Israel included. He plausibly linked the toppling of Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953 with the kidnapping of American diplomats in 1979. He spoke of human rights and the rule of law in Egypt without appearing to undermine Mubarak. Obama said in a way that could not have offended Jews that the holocaust engendered a tragic injustice for the Palestinians. Finally, and most important, he made the justice of a Palestinian state seem an American interest without denying unbreakable links to Israel, that is, the state Israel would be once a deal is done.

It is a little frightening how indispensable this man is becoming.


Mairav said...

Obama's assertion of American interests in Palestinian statehood can be problematic. The more a Palestinian state alongside Israel is framed as a Western interest, the more external and imposed it becomes on Palestinians themselves. In the current NY Review of Books, there is an interesting argument made about this. "The process of legitimizing a state in international eyes has helped discredit it in those of its intended beneficiaries."

Potter said...

Yes going meta, thumbs up to that! - I don't know if Albert Einstein actually said this but it was recently quoted:

"No problem can be solved with the same consciousness that caused it"

Obama has a raised consciousness. That is so apparent! That does not mean he can solve the problems before him, but he can awaken many others to meta truths and inspire others to think anew and more broadly and positively about about possibilities.

Also he strikes me as an astounding Christian (as I understand Christianity) transcending using the potential in all religion to inspire transcendence.

David J. Balan said...

It is indeed a little frightening how indispensable he has become to the liberal project, broadly writ. And I would imagine that this fact has not escaped the notice of bad guys of all stripes. Let's hope that the Secret Service people are very very very very very good at their jobs.

Paul said...

And how can this be? For Obama is the Kwisatz Haderach!

Y. Ben-David said...

Yes, one speech is going to make all the difference. The Muslim states, almost all of which are autocracies are now going to become democracies because Obama told them to. And democracy means they are going to all want peace with Israel. But wait a minute, what if they all allow democratic elections and radical Islamists take power (I know Obama related to this problem, but he didn't give any solution)? And now we see democratic Turkey moving in the direction of increasing hostility to Israel and downgrading relations. So is this going to make peace closer or further away?

Regarding Dr Avishai's project - "The Hebrew Republic" which he says the majority of Israeli Arabs are dying to identify with , look at this link about a speech by the new Arab woman Israeli Knesset Member given in Australia. Read it and see if she is willing to become a "Hebrew" (and don't forget she is what people call a "moderate"):

Y. Ben-David said...

I would also like to point out that Obama did NOT outline the terms of "the solution everyone knows the outcome of", i.e. Israeli withdrawal to the pre-67 lines, division of Jerusalem and l recognition of the "Palestinian Right of Return" with a limited number of Palestinians allowed to enter Israel.
Apparently they are beginning to realize that this "solution" is no solution at all and the Arabs have made it clear they will never accept it.

Anonymous said...

The president Obama is trying to solve 7th century problem with 21st century approach. It will not work! I agree with Bernard's single Hebrew republic solution but I also agree with Ben-Davis's point of view. I think the best solution offered ids in the writtings of Benny Morris. I know many people will be horrified but it would save hundreds, if not thousands of lives and finaly finish this conflict. As Benny said it should have been done in 1948. The Israel will unitarily declare new borders, best to protect itself. It will also declare "Hebrew" republic and people Jewa or Arabs who dis-agree will be expelled. The West Bank settlers not integrated into Israel would be able to stay where they are, but would have to fight it up by themself. If they return, they would have to sugn same allegiance to secular Israel, same like Arab citizens. Any attack on new Israel would be reponded with no consideration for civilian population or Entebee type operation to bring out leaders to try them as common criminals. I believe that after 1-2 overhelming air attacks where large portion of enemy territory would be destroyed would bring finaly peace to the area. This would give rest of the world time to bring ME Muslim world out of Middle Ages and saves Israel where Jews can live in relative safety and pride.. This is Ibn Verga

Amanda said...

Obama's Address in Cairo. Addressing the muslim world. It is indeed very interesting to hear what the President of United States have to say about muslims. This is truly a new page upon which history is being written. It is also of no doubt that Obama have successfully used the emotions.

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