Sometimes, desperate and difficult circumstances require that we change the game a little bit, shake things up, if you will. If recent reports are true, then President Obama plans to mint his own Mideast peace plan in an attempt to loosen up the gridlock the parties are experiencing in that troubled region of the world.
And this is precisely the type of leadership for which people voted in the 2008 election. Tired of being hated when they traveled abroad -- due to the misguided cowboy diplomacy practiced by George W. Bush for eight long years -- Americans wanted a president that would once again make their country a place that was respected among the community of nations. And with his historic Mideast speech, Obama clearly laid out a new vision for Israel, the Palestinians and the greater Arab world.
"The truth is, in some of these conflicts, the United States can't impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of the old patterns of antagonism," the President said last week. A U.S. led plan would address Iran, a big concern of Israel, and involve Arab neighbors as well. "We want to get the debate away from settlements and East Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000-feet level that can involve Jordan, Syria and other countries in the region," in addition to the Palestinians and Israelis. The President knows that incrementalism hasn't worked.
All parties involved in a solution to the problem can afford to look at things in a different way. Israel is led by a right-wing government that has been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration. And realpolitik dictates that empires cannot allow their satellite nations to chump them out. Allowing the construction of additional housing units in East Jerusalem, the presumptive capital of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not come to the negotiating table as an honest partner. Self-determination and nationhood are a must for the Palestinians, and actions which show contempt for this reality certainly will not bring anyone peace and security, most of all Israel. True leadership comes when so-called leaders do the unpopular, though it is best for their people. Cowardice is doing the expedient, that which may yield short-term votes, yet fails to address the long-term crisis and only exacerbates it. So, for the purposes of this analysis, Netanyahu is a coward.
For Palestinians, suicide bombers will not bring peace, and a culture of violence will not build a nation. Although Israel has erred in characterizing what is primarily a liberation struggle as terrorism, the Palestinians have been mistaken in believing that killing innocent people will accomplish anything other than continuing the cycle of violence. The people in the occupied territories are suffering plenty, to be sure. The blockade of Gaza is a human rights violation and a humanitarian crisis, part of the greater outrage that is the occupation itself, with its apartheid system of checkpoints, passes and Bantustans. People of all faiths and backgrounds -- including progressive Jews -- choose to protest an unjust Gaza policy by fasting and other peaceful means.
As if to learn a lesson from the civil rights movement in the Jim Crow South, many Palestinians are realizing that nonviolent resistance is the path to freedom. They are staging peaceful protests and boycotting goods made in the settlements. The Palestinian prime minister traveled to the West Bank to plant trees and declared that land, not presently under his authority, as part of a future Palestinian state. Gandhi and King surely would be proud.
As far as the U.S. is concerned, a laissez-faire policy of shoulder shrugging has not worked in the Mideast, and neither has the appearance of siding with one party over another. Obama realizes that if there is any hope for stability in the region, he must deal with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Hotheads and peddlers of extremism have a vested interest in the status quo, and would like nothing more than to derail any attempts to transform today's sad state of affairs.
As an aside, somehow, the legendary African-American poet Gil Scott-Heron is caught in the crosshairs of the Mideast conflict. He was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. And now he is being criticized for his plans to perform in Tel Aviv, which, critics say, would violate the unified call among Palestinian civil society for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a call which is "directed particularly towards international activists, artists, and academics of conscience."
Whether Gil Scott-Heron is compromising his ideals by performing in Israel is a question that goes far beyond the scope of this commentary. However, I am reminded of the title of one of his songs, "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." And for people living in Israel and the occupied territories, home definitely is where the hatred is. It is what South African Justice Richard Goldstone called "a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future. Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region."