Now that President Barack Obama’s Israel visit has officially ended we can take a look at the revolutionary changes about to take place in Israel after his moving speech mobilized the entire Knesset, Israelis everywhere, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself to action … just kidding!
The president’s long anticipated visit meant less than nothing.
Obama’s vacation to Israel was exactly that: He toured the sites, paid homage and respects, and reassured everyone that Israel has the right to exist and that the U.S. stand firmly behind the Jewish State; par for the course for any presidential visit to the promised land. But in the process of pandering to Israel, Obama annoyed Palestinians and Arabs everywhere — which are the exact groups of people that his visit should have been meant to reassure.
In his speech to a contingency of young Israelis in Jerusalem, Obama said exactly what he should have while at the same time saying everything he shouldn’t. He seemed to use his young audience as a way to divide the old guard, such as Netanyahu and his cronies, from the new generations of Israelis that are not as hawkish on Palestinians, imploring them to, “Put yourself in their shoes — look at the world through their eyes.”
The problem is that these two messages are divergent; empowering Israeli youth to force their leaders to acquiesce to what Palestinian Arabs rightly claim as their land while at the same time continuing the rhetoric of unflinching support for whatever Israel does will not help anything in the short term. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is powerful, Israeli settlements in the West Bank are more scattered and numerous than ever, and it will take years to foment any of the change Obama sought to stir up in his speech. It is true that older, conservative generations will not last forever, but nor will a two-state solution and potential end to hostilities if youthful Israeli voices don’t act and act fast.
Around the region, Arab governments didn’t seem to care any more than usual about about Palestinian issues while Obama was in town, as witnessed in Jordan where, at least geographically, the issue should matter the most. Instead, Obama’s quick visit with King Abdullah in Amman was used to discuss the looming crisis of refugees from Syria pouring into Jordan. Arab news outlets drew the typical conclusions from the visit, citing that nothing new is to be expected, the visit was meant to bolster Obama’s standing in Israel, scare Iran, and did nothing more than prove yet again that the U.S. has always favored Israel over Arabs.
In the end, Obama played it safe: Brown nose the Israeli right while trying to appease Arabs a little by recognizing their plight. But this safe stance will do nothing to stop the slow and painful death of democracy in Israel while dashing the hopes Arabs everywhere felt that Obama stood for something better.