It may seem churlish, in the wake of President Obama’s lofty speech to the Muslim world yesterday, to note that despite his references to “Palestine,” there is no such entity.
There is the Palestinian Authority, of course, whose president is Mahmoud Abbas, and there is the belief, shared by many, that its goal is the creation of a Palestinian state, though its actions in recent years indicate otherwise.
Various attempts, including Israeli Prime Minister Barak’s overly generous offer at Camp David in 2000, rejected outright by Yasir Arafat, indicate that Palestinian leaders may find the dream of a state more appealing than its reality.
In any event, the fact remains that while President Obama and his staff crafted the Cairo speech with great care, thought and devotion to detail, its references to “Palestine” were inaccurate. One must conclude that their inclusion in the speech was deliberate, and sought to make a political point that trumped historical fact.
The point, in a talk that mixed rhetorical eloquence, painstakingly calibrated equivalency and a heavy dose of pragmatism, is that Obama views the plight of the Israelis and Palestinians on an equal plain. Both groups have suffered, both deserve a state, let’s put the past aside and make it happen, soon.
Obama would see it as nit-picking and unproductive to point out the historic flaws in such an argument that equates the suffering of the Palestinians to the Nazis’ annihilation of six million Jews, or to note that the primary cause for Palestinians suffering over the years is their leaders’ refusal to eschew violence and make any compromises in light of Israel’s repeated offers and attempts to resolve the crisis.
Perhaps it’s seen as diplomatically practical to jettison the past and move forward, but no meaningful resolution of such an emotional and deep-seated dispute can have traction unless and until the grievances of both sides are articulated, heard and acknowledged.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute can’t be papered over, no matter how good the intentions of those who want it ended. And while the President can make specific demands on what Israel has to do – stop the settlements, whatever that means – his attempt at balance in calling for the Palestinians to end the violence remains hollow, abstract, and less than convincing.
Bottom line, this pragmatic President, and those who advise him, must come to grips with the reality that no Palestinian leader is prepared to accept the permanent presence of a Jewish state in the region, and to say so publicly.
Until that happens, all the concessions squeezed from Israel will not add up to a peaceful and happy ending to the standoff between an Israel that refuses to commit suicide and a “Palestine” that does not yet exist.