President Obama’s speech was, no doubt, inspiring. But rhetoric and reality are two different things. The U.S. can solve the Palestinian problem only if it succeeds in halting Israel’s settlement project in the occupied Palestinian territory. No American President is likely to succeed in doing this as the Jewish lobby in the country is very powerful. Another sticking point which Mr. Obama did not mention is Jerusalem, which is important for both Jews and Muslims.
During his election campaign, Mr. Obama said: “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” And after becoming President he said: “America is committed to Israel’s security and we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats…” But in his address at Cairo, he advocated a two-state solution. His real intent is there for all to see. He appointed Rahm Emanuel, a hardliner, as the White House Chief of Staff. The Thursday exercise was undertaken only to improve America’s image.
By subtly distancing himself from the Bush legacy and expressing the U.S. desire to re-emerge as a global and principled leader and appealing to the Muslim world for a new beginning, President Obama has made a bold and a good start. But the real challenge lies in translating his words into deeds and delivering on his promises.
The phrase ‘new beginning’ is an exaggeration. President Obama was silent during the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, while he condemned the Mumbai attack. The U.S. continues to veto U.N. resolutions that hold Israel responsible for war crimes.
Mr. Obama’s address can, at best, be seen as a partial shift in the U.S. attitude towards the Muslim world. One cannot but be sceptical. It has been proved many times that American Presidents say something but do something else. The need of the hour is commitment rather than attractive speeches at regular intervals. Mr. Obama should prove that he is not in the mould of his predecessors.
It should not take much for a world leader to compose a goodwill message, yet very few bother to do so. So accustomed are we to reading about hate and suffering every day that something like Mr. Obama’s Cairo address seems almost childlike in its idealism. It is all the more admirable because his bold vision disregards the cynicism that must greet his gesture of goodwill. A gesture is a gesture after all but in a world steeped in paranoia, it has its importance. It can at least begin a person’s day on a bright note.