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Barack Obama arrived in Israel yesterday on his first visit since becoming US president more than four years ago. Interestingly, he is being called a tourist. Columnists and officials have placed him under the tourist category because the president is coming without any specific agenda, except a willingness to listen. The president must be thanking his stars for being able to undertake a journey to a hotspot and be unconcerned about the outcome of the visit. The broad smile on his face and sangfroid he displayed after arrival are proofs of the informality of the whole exercise. The White House itself has billed the trip as a listening exercise by the White House, which has been anxious to set low-to-zero expectations of tangible outcomes.
The purpose of his visit was to declare that the relationship between the US and Israel was eternal. “I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations, to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbours,” Obama said at a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
Despite the president’s unwillingness to wade into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there has been a chorus of demand from certain quarters for the president to intervene. Some of those who made this demand are more pro-Israeli than pro-Palestinian and their demand is born of the realisation that Israel is scripting its own disaster with its unfettered settlement expansion. But Obama knows he is as powerless as those who mooted the idea in reining in Netanyahu.
The current tour means nothing to Arabs. Undoubtedly, Arab faith in Obama is on the decline and is likely to aggravate. The president too doesn’t seem to bother. And the biggest losers of this indifference are people in our region. The purpose of the Israeli visit is to unequivocally make clear what every US president has been unequivocally making clear: that the US relationship with Israel is ‘eternal’ and no force can change it. Obama even failed to mention Palestinians by their name. He referred to them as ‘neighbours’ in his arrival statement.
As for Palestinians, they need to read the writing on the wall, if they haven’t already. Expecting Washington to intervene as an honest broker will be akin to waiting for Godot. Expecting Netanyahu to cede an inch of confiscated land will be asking for trouble. Both the US and Israel don’t find the need to upend the status quo.
If Palestinians want a state, the onus is on them to take the initiative. If Fatah and Hamas can’t agree on a state for all Palestinians, blaming Obama for taking a backseat is nothing but passing the buck•