Barack Obama has now personally taken his praise of Zionism to a Palestine where his sentiment is viewed as a perverse glorification of Jewish racism. Will Obama's Zionism undermine his future efforts to bring peace to the region?
Behind the smiles and photo ops with President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah is the reality that this U.S. presidential nominee has used his physical presence in the Middle East to not only demonstrate his sensitivity to Palestinian needs, but to also reinforce the continuity of America's commitment to the Zionist idea.
As an unabashed Zionist, Obama's travels to Amman, Jerusalem, and the West Bank have reminded the region's players that in addition to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on borders and military zones, there also needs to be an ideological accommodation with the national aspirations of the Jewish people.
For most Palestinians, Zionism is antithetical to their own national aspirations. Palestinian nationalists insist that European Jews had no right to settle in a land that had been occupied by Arabs for generations.
Zionists reply that Jews should not be forced to abandon their rights to a homeland that was the basis of their national identity thousands of years before conquering Muslim armies came north from the Arabian peninsula to rule and convert the local inhabitants.
With Obama and Abbas side by side, the Zionist divide once again becomes starkly apparent. On one side, there's Obama's heartfelt homage to Zionism.
"The idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea," Obama has said, "and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience."
On the other side there is Abbas, who has denounced Zionism as a duplicitous plot to expand Jewish power at the expense of Arab property and prosperity.
Abbas earned his Ph.D. from Moscow University with a doctoral dissertation asserting that Zionist leaders were complicit in the Holocaust. "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government's hatred of them," he charged. This was done to encourage Jews to flee Nazi persecution by emigrating to Palestine, and to assure that when dividing up the spoils of Germany's eventual defeat, guilt-ridden Europeans and Americans would feel obligated to establish a Jewish state as a refuge for the Nazi death camp survivors.
President Abbas may no longer absurdly attribute such diabolical acts to Zionists. He frequently reiterates his acceptance of peaceful coexistence between a proposed Palestinian state and its Zionist neighbor.
Although he was born in Safed in what is now Israel, Abbas fled with his family when war between Arabs and Jews erupted in 1948. Hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians also left the newly-established State of Israel, as did similar numbers of Jews living in Arab lands who sought safety in the Jewish homeland.
Abbas rejects the approach of compatriots who are still determined to return to towns and villages inside present-day Israel. He knows that Israel would be committing national suicide if it allowed millions of Palestinian refugees to enter the country.
"I know every street and store," Abbas explains, recalling his birthplace. "But now I'm not allowed to be there. That's life. I'm not asking for Safed. I'm not asking to return there."
Abbas accepts the reality of Israel's sovereignty in Safed without renouncing his birthright. Such acceptance is enough, since Palestinians do not have to become Zionists in order for there to be peace in the Middle East.
But Obama understands that American presidents may indeed have to be Zionists if a White House brokered Mideast peace is to last, for anyone who denies the Jewish character of Israel undermines the rationale for its continued existence.
Steve Posner's latest book is "Spiritual Delights and Delusions: How to Bridge the Gap between Spiritual Fulfillment and Emotional Realities." Visit his website at steveposner.com