President Barack Obama will no doubt get a chance to discuss with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, several sensitive issues during his upcoming visit to Israel. Logically, the two men would reconsider the use of fake western passports by Mossad agents — as the most recent revelations involving Ben Zygier, an Australian citizen involved in the Dubai operation that killed the Hamas agent, Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in January 2010, confirmed. Although this may not appear to be a leading topic because of so many other pressing political questions, one must assume that it is critical enough to warrant inclusion near the top of the agenda, as American intelligence sources have confirmed that US, British, Australian and French passports, among others, were routinely and illegally used by Israelis to travel throughout the Arab world.
The two men were also likely to discuss Iran, and the latter’s lingering nuclear programme, which made steady progress despite oft-repeated Iranian denials that they were harbouring an active programme. Repetitive Israeli threats, as well as American demands for accountability in discussions through the P5+1 framework or even on a bilateral basis, will be too important to be overlooked. Regrettably, while the Obama administration continued to extend an olive branch to Tehran, and may have prevented an Israeli attack on Iranian military facilities during the past few months, Ayatollah Khamanei has reiterated his refusal to engage, much less listen to or negotiate, with Washington.
Naturally, Obama and Netanyahu will measure each other up on Syria as well, where one can see that the regime is hanging on in the middle of what is turning out to be a war beyond either Washington’s or Tel Aviv’s abilities to guide. Despite tremendous pressure on Saudi Arabia and other Arab States not to accelerate financial and military aid to Syrian revolutionaries — and aware that Russia and China continue their obduracy in the hope of restoring their lost capabilities throughout the Arab world — the onus was on the US to persuade Israel to check its insatiable appetite to hit Syria and its Hezbollah ally in Lebanon at a time when Damascus was on its knees and the Party of God confronted an unprecedented identity crisis within one of the most dynamic societies in the entire region.
Even if the images of the new Middle East, that Netanyahu will paint for Obama, will correctly focus on the bloody Syrian revolution, Lebanon’s perpetual internecine conflicts and dramatic shifts in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Turkey, he will also portray Israel as an island of stability in a sea of turmoil and Levantine chaos. Of course, time will tell whether Obama will listen politely, but quickly excuse the erroneous portrayals. To be sure, Washington was aware that the region changed for the better after the fall of several dictatorships, although temporary instability was disquieting. Obama knew that permanent adjustments were underway in Syria, Israel and elsewhere and it behoved Washington to start thinking differently about the area — perhaps by truly “listening” to indigenous aspirations.
Because of core transformations — representation, governance, freedom — leading world powers took note of the alterations under way, certainly among the Lebanese who refused to be a sideshow, Jordanians who rejected their dependence on others, Egyptians who confronted indigenous contradictions, Iraqis who redefined their social contracts, Turks who reappraised their friendships, Palestinians who craved a state, and Israelis who searched for relevance. There was even change throughout the Arabian Peninsula, where accelerated reforms were introduced, to stay a few steps ahead of the coming storms.
The question that begged an answer, however, was whether this American president was willing to truly lead?
Indeed, Obama’s visit to Israel, the Occupied Territories and Jordan present a golden opportunity for the US president to finally become a first-class statesman by making a bold and long-overdue declaration that he was committing the US to ensure the creation of a viable Palestinian state. This was no rocket science and it was long overdue to accelerate ad nausea discussions that hovered around the two-state solution — which may no longer be possible.
Enough with gerrymandering and meaningless negotiations on which police officer will salute which low-ranking deputy under-secretary of a meaningless ministry on alternative Tuesdays. Enough of wasting time by splitting hair. Enough of insisting that the two parties must find their own ways. Enough of kow-towing to powerful lobbyists who are nothing more than merchants of death.
To be sure, Obama was confronted by two dilemmas — time and vision — but it was up to him to use the first wisely, before he leaves office on January 20, 2017, and audaciously in the second, both to justify his prematurely awarded Nobel Peace prize in 2009 and, far more important, to etch his historical election as the first coloured man to accede to the Oval Office in a framework that will be remembered for something substantive.
In the Arab world, nothing will advance US interests as much as the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State — a historically inevitable outcome, no matter how long it may take. That is what the US president can commit to doing if he chooses to truly lead.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia.