By just going to Cairo University to give a "speech to the Muslim World," Barack Obama is doing something that his predecessors never really understood.
The Arab World and the Muslim World do not hate Americans nor do they hate the West. They are angry about some policies. Some fanatics use that anger and exploit it to finance and empower their extremist goals.
But by speaking to the Arab and the Muslim World, Obama is sending a signal to the silent majority of Arabs and Muslims that he cares and that Americans care. And that by itself will help to undermine the extremists in the Arab and Muslim World who are behind much of the violence. Obama "gets it."
But what he actually says will help the Arab and Muslim World decide if Obama "understands" the Arab and Muslim World.
Most Arabs and Muslims do not hate Jews and they don't hate Israel. But they are angry with Israeli policy. That Obama is trying hard to stand up not only to Israel and to its 395 supporters in the U.S. Congress -- a daunting challenge for even a president -- is a signal that Obama does understand. He understands that peace is not just about stopping the violence. It is about achieving the justice. Peace is about both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict actually doing something significant to compromise.
That means the Arabs compromise and that means Israel compromises too. And the compromise that Arabs and Muslims want from Israel is simple: Stop building settlements. Stop annexing Arab owned lands. Share Jerusalem.
Despite being rebuffed not only by Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but also by "moderate leader" Ehud Barak, Obama plans to push ahead with "tough love." The fact is you can support Israel and Israel's interests and still demand that Israel stop building settlements and be ready to compromise.
That is exactly the message the Arab World and the Muslim World want to hear from Obama. And he has spoken that tune already. Not as forcefully and maybe too diplomatically in the face of Netanyahu's flexing of his muscle in Washington D.C. -- Netanyahu is behind the letter from the 395 Congressmen telling him to go soft on Israel.
Arabs and Muslims expect Obama to tell them that they must act to recognize Israel, work with Israel and normalize relations with Israel. Control the fanatics and the extremists and crack down on the violence and the violence-prone fanatics who are behind the terrorism.
In exchange, Arabs and Muslims are expecting to also hear that he will pressure Israel to do what it has promised to do. Return Arab land confiscated in 1967. Share Jerusalem. Stop making excuses on the issue of illegal settlements and stop expanding them. Stop them and eventually remove them or trade them land for land, inch for inch.
Maybe it is a bit of Obama's upbringing that is making him more sensitive to the concerns of the Arab and Muslim World. But it is also the right thing to do. Showing concern for the Arab and Muslim World which has been victimized by the policies of the West for a century, mainly because of oil, will be more than enough for Arabs and Muslims to "stand down" in their anger, in their suspicions and their emotions or passion. Chill and give Obama a chance to do good.
Barack Obama is not George W. Bush, a president who lacked the ability to comprehend the depth of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although Obama has Rahm Emanuel at his side -- Emanuel is the son of one of Israel's toughest fighters and a member of the former terrorist organization, the Irgun, who also did some service in the Israel Defense Force -- Emanuel is not Dick Cheney pushing an agenda of vengeance against Iraq.
Obama is unique. Maybe because of his African American heritage. Maybe because of his family understanding of the Islamic World. Or maybe, more importantly, because he is a genuine person who speaks from his heart and truly believes that America is the champion of justice, the leader of the free world and that principle and morality mean more than short-term political hegemony.
I trust Barack Obama. I think that given the chance, he more than anyone can bring peace to the Middle East. And, maybe even use that regional peace to bring peace to the rest of the world.
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