President Barack Obama's landmark speech to an invited audience at Cairo University earlier this month had nothing new. Most of what Obama said had already been mentioned by him at various venues including Turkey. However, what was different was that the tone and the language were both balanced and respectful.
The issues he covered were varied; human rights, women's rights, democracy, economy, 9/11, religious freedom, Middle East and violent extremism.
His rhetoric was measured but on the political front, he failed to convince. Take the example of Palestine and Israel.
Obama acknowledged the sufferings of the Palestinians and Israelis and uniquely for a US president, he acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation. 'Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust' [Palestinians] endure the daily humiliations ' large and small ' that come with occupation,' he said.
But when it came to politics, he, like Bush before him, took the pro-Israeli line. He said the 'strong bonds' with Israel will continue and are 'unbreakable'. Obama asks the Palestinians to abandon violence but says nothing about the Israeli violence. 'It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,' he argues. There was not a word about the greater Israeli bombing of Gaza in December and January when hundreds of civilians, including old women and children were killed. Nor was there any mention of the inhumane siege of Gaza.
He said violence to resist occupation does not succeed, so why did America lead military action against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait? Why did they use and are still using violence in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan to achieve their aims? Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for decades and diplomacy has never worked.
Palestinians argue the world doesn't care and the only solution left for them is resistance. The US has not used any sanctions, military or economic to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories or to dismantle and stop building new settlements. Obama did request Israel to stop building new settlements but Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu continues to defy him.
Netanyahu even has refused to recognise an independent and sovereign Palestinian State. Instead, he has reluctantly agreed a state with no control of its boundaries, no army, no air force, no navy; that is a state subservient to Israel. And to top it all he said Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel and that Palestinians should accept Israel as a Jewish state exclusively for Jews removing the right of return for the Palestinians. In addition around 1.4 million Arab Israelis would be under threat of expulsion from Israel.
The US President also spoke on nuclear weapons and blamed Iran for wishing to lead the Middle East 'down a hugely dangerous path.' What he did not say is that Iran does not possess, nor is there any evidence that it is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, just mere suspicions. He remains opposed to Iran being allowed to enrich its own uranium when Japan, Brazil and others are allowed to, as it is a right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In contrast, he did not say even a single word about Israel's existing stockpile of between 100 to 300 nuclear weapons, the only state in the Middle East to have any.
It seems when Israel is concerned, Obama, just like Bush, has not changed.
For the world to believe Obama, he has to show it by example. The US's domestic and international policies must be based on ethics. They should be balanced, just and fair.
As Abdelwahab El-Affendi argues on Obama's speech, dialogue is important, it is 'not a question of searching for a missing 'common ground' or elusive 'shared values'. What is needed is to live up to the values we already share.' (p 7)
The goodwill that Obama had when he became the President of the United States of America is slowly eroding. If the US policies do not positively change, we will be back to square one.
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