There will likely be accolades and great fanfare to inform the American people back home over how well President Obama’s speech in the Israeli capital city of Jerusalem was received by those attending. Never mind that only a very select few members from the Israeli government were allowed to attend and that the President refused an invitation to address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and return the gracious respect shown the United States Congress at every available opportunity by Prime Minister Netanyahu who gladly accepts every opportunity to address American legislators. The news reports will likely not include that not only did President Obama choose to speak solely to university students but he also insisted that one Israeli University specifically be refused any slots to have their students attend the speech. The singled out university is Israel’s newest, Ariel University. There was no reason given but if this is mentioned at all it will be assured that the fact it is Israel’s only university in the “occupied territories” and thus it would be inappropriate for the President of the United States to allow students from a university that is on occupied lands to attend. There are a few things about Ariel and its university that you will not hear. Some of these items in which it stands apart from the other universities are that it has the highest number of Palestinian students attending; the highest number of Arab professors; is in Ariel which is a city of over 20,000 people; Ariel is a mixed community of Jews and Arabs living side by side in peace; the city is home to an industrial plant in which Jews and Arabs, both Israeli and Palestinian, work side by side; and Ariel was one of the first cities to be considered as included in the lands Israel would retain until President Obama gave his sanctification to the idea of complete withdrawal to within the 1949 Armistice Lines in a speech meant to blunt any discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu which was given as the Israeli Prime Minister was boarding his flight to the United States.
The coverage of President Obama’s speech will likely cover in great detail how he received numerous standing ovations, that his statement that the only path to peace for Israel was to make difficult but necessary concessions to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians was one of the best received parts of the speech, and there will be the emphasis that the speech was held in western Jerusalem, Israel’s half of their capital city. This is all quite true but leaves out a few interesting and essential facts. These were not a random set of students but were hand-picked by the President’s team. Almost all of them were leaders in the tent protests which occupied downtown Tel Aviv among other cities two summers past. These students are members of groups so far to the left of the political spectrum that even Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yachimovich, leaders of two of Israel’s left to center-left political parties and Shelly Yachimovich is even the opposition leader in the new Israeli government, would not think of allying with them as they represent sectors of Israeli society well outside political acceptance, and those allowed to cover the President’s speech were also left to a selected group. This will be the sole venue in which President Obama will make any speech other than a short acceptance speech at a State dinner where Israeli President Peres will be awarding President Obama the Presidential Medal of Distinction, Israel’s highest civilian award. This is a reciprocal granting of awards as President Obama had similarly honored President Peres. The only other public speech other than short sound bite type responses such as the one given at the reception at the airport and likely one at the official departure ceremony was a speech given to an equally selective group of Palestinian youth as part of President Obama’s trip to Ramallah. That speech also was not broadcast and for the most part the Israeli public will not be able to hear any of President Obama’s full speaking engagements. This is a definite departure from protocols between the two allies and is a definite departure from visits to Israel by Presidents Bush and Clinton as well as from the usual high profile appearances President Obama has given in Europe and numerous other nations he has visited. Some might wonder what it is that President Obama is avoiding by not speaking to the Israeli public as a whole or even giving the common courtesies to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
In many ways the President’s trip will receive longer and more in depth coverage back home in the United States than he will within Israel. One might be tempted to call President Obama’s visit the Obama stealth tour as he will pass through Israeli and barely be seen and definitively not heard. One might try to be surprised by this treatment of an allied nation but the path traveled by President Obama and Israel has not exactly been a walk in the park. One might rather refer to it as a cross between an adventure hike and a five kilometer run and a game of hide and seek. The one identifying trait of President Obama’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s interactions is that it almost spears to have been a game of tag with each one attempting to make the other one “it” and otherwise avoiding contact as much as possible. Unfortunately for Israel, Netanyahu has appeared to have been “it” for the majority of the time as Obama has appeared to have been avoiding him when the two were in the same town or even appearing at the same venue. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been refused meetings with President Obama at a minimum of when both appeared at the United Nations speaking on consecutive days and at an AIPAC Convention where they spoke on consecutive days. The one plus that can be taken from President Obama’s trip was that he did finally include Israel in his itinerary.
The number one question is what can be made of all the peculiarities evidenced in President Obama’s schedule? Taking into account that everything in the Middle East is examined, torn apart, interpreted, and subject to inquisition style questioning attempting to find the hidden meanings and conspirational properties which can be hidden within; Israel’s Arab neighbors will definitely derive many implications which will all point to President Obama placing Israel at arm’s length with a dash of disapproval from the fact that the President refused to address the Knesset. They will find similar meaning from the lack of public appearances made by the President. The withholding of places for students from Ariel University will be an indication that the President recognizes the Palestinian claims to all of the contested lands and as reinforcing Obama’s speech calling for the 67 lines to serve as the start point for negotiations over final borders. The complete lack of condemnation or even mention of the Gaza rocket attack from within Hamas territories on the Israeli town of Sderot which occurred prior to his speech or even his trip to Ramallah will be seen as complicit approval of such terror attacks or at least not an abject rejection of such attacks. There will also be found an equality of respect for the Palestinian people as there was for the Israelis as the President also had a private address with Palestinian youths. Not being quite as proficient at conspiracy theories, though I have been accused of having believed many, I am sure that this list is far from complete and with time the reaction from the Arab and Muslim worlds will become more evident. The one prediction that can be made is that the Palestinians can feel empowered by President Obama’s actions as can much of the Arab world especially the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliates. The first real consequences will be drawn when we can review the results from Secretary of State Kerry’s scheduled talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu for Saturday where Secretary Kerry will likely making certain that whatever points President Obama expected or even insisted of Israel have been understood and the proper and correct actions explained in full. What is up to interpretation is exactly how much weight can be placed on the fact that Secretary of State Kerry has scheduled his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the Jewish Sabbath. One might find some level of insult or simply infer that the message is that the administration does not care if Israel is comfortable with the state of things and simply expects compliance and obedience from Israel and nothing more. Then again, it might just be an oversight from the most calculating Presidency in the recent history of the United States.
Beyond the Cusp