As speeches go, President Obama’s remarks at Cairo University were epic for its clarity in addressing long festering perceptions of Islam in the United States, the Muslim community’s view of America, and the need for a peacefully negotiated two-state solution in the United States. His courage to venture into the third rail of American foreign policy - the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - should be applauded and admired given the political capital he will have to expend to forge a settlement in the Middle East.
One of the underlying tensions that constantly encroach this administration is that public perception of his actions is often shaped first by his race, and second, by the merits of his policy agenda. While much has been made of Mr. Obama’s overcoming race, the truth of the matter is that America has not and his every move is judged through that lens, whether supporter or detractors will care to admit. So, given the complex relationship between Blacks and Jews in the United States, it would have been easy for this President to sidestep some of the issues he confronted in his Cairo speech and not risk alienating a strong Democratic voting bloc in this country. Rather than play it safe, Mr. Obama chose to tell the truth. The candor of his remarks was refreshing and they will hopefully embolden American Muslims to become more active in the policy debates on the Middle East.
For years, Palestinians have taken the brunt of criticism for the ongoing violence in the Middle East. Partly due to a very active and aggressive lobby and bias against Muslims, supporters of Israel have been successful in painting an extreme picture of Palestinians that few American elected officials have challenged. When dissent against the tactics of the Israeli government has surfaced and mind you, not against the right of Israel to exist, the reaction has been swift. Take the case of former President Jimmy Carter, who during his presidency advanced the cause or peace in the Middle East, who was branded an anti-Semite when he dared to take issue with the manner in which the Israeli lobby advanced its cause in the United States and expressed empathy for the plight of Palestinians. President Obama, however, did not shy away from the issue of Palestinian statehood. The President said, “At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society.”
Despite his bold call for a Palestinian state, Mr. Obama did not let Arabs or the Muslim world off the hook. He stated, “The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to 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.”
We believe that President Obama struck an appropriate balance in describing what will be required to bring a true and lasting peace to the Middle East. It is our hope that both sides truly heard what the President was saying and will come to the table in a forthright manner to secure a peaceful future for Palestinian and Israeli children. We agree with President Obama’s declaration that “The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.”