Saturday, June 06, 2009

The President And The Palestinians

It is easy, when hearing a major address, to get caught up in the central message or, paradoxically, in individual phrases or sentences.

And so it is that President Obama has garnered widespread acclaim for a speech that acknowledges the shortcomings of his country and pledges its support for a beleagured, historically oppressed people.

But a more sanguine analysis of Obama's address in Cairo to the Muslim world reveals interesting- and disturbing- symmetry.

In the space of three- and, most importantly, three consecutive- paragraphs, the President made the following unremarkable points:

1) Jews have suffered for centuries, culminating in the Holocaust;

2) Threatening Israel with destruction is "wrong";

3) Palestinians "have suffered in pursuit of a homeland";

4) The region "for decades" has endured "a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations."

Nothing extraordinary nor bold there. But there are two clear implications: a)the Holocaust and the oppression of Palestinians have been equivalent horrors (as in "on the other hand"); and b)the Israelis, and no one else, are responsible for the plight of the "Palestinian people, Muslims and Christians" (as Obama phrased it in an earlier paragraph, suggesting the confluence of interests between Muslims and Christians in opposition to those of Jewish Palestinians).

Now these implications, so clear in the reading, are remarkable. Remarkably inaccurate and, in the case of establishing symmetry between the experiences of the Jewish people and those of the Palestinians, remarkably obscene. To be sure, in the course of 13 paragraphs devoted to the Mideast, Mr. Obama managed to say that the Arab states must "help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past." But there was no suggestion that these Arab states in any way have been responsible for the plight of the Palestinians nor a factor in the continuing absence of a homeland; only three sentences so bland and insignificant that no one, as far as I can tell, even has mentioned the reference.

President Obama's concern for the aspirations of the Palestinian people are shared by most Americans- and most Israelis, as well as by their government. If there were now as much interest on the part of Arab governments, other than as an alibi for their own failure, Mr. Obama's vision might be fulfilled. If only.

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