I hope President Obama won’t take it personally, but during his visit in my country I had important business in New York and Los Angeles. Had I known that his visit would finally bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, I would have canceled my trip and stayed in Israel to be witness to history in the making.
The fact that I decided to go anyway doesn’t mean that I wasn’t watching the visit closely. After all, the future of my children and my grandchildren is at stake here. I followed the visit through my old and trusted friends, the newspapers. In that, I probably belong to the diminishing, endangered species who believe that newspapers are still the most reliable source of information. God save print!
On the El Al flight out of Tel Aviv I browsed through the Israeli weekend newspapers and found a story not related to the presidential visit, but nevertheless amazing. It turned out that in 1993, Abu Mazen, then No. 2 in the PLO, had backaches. A special chair was flown to him from Europe. He didn’t know that the Mossad had hidden a microphone in the chair, thus listening in on all his conversations. Our able Mossad operators learned that more than he hated the Israelis, Abu Mazen despised his boss, Yasser Arafat, and ushered on him hearty curses.
More troubling was the story in The New York Times magazine on Sunday, telling the travails of Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian village whose residents have been carrying out weekly demonstrations against members of the Israeli Defense Forces. Their leader, Bassem Tamimi, told correspondent Ben Ehrenreich that, “If there is a third Intifada, we want to be the ones who started it.”
You really don’t need to hide a microphone in Tamimi’s chair, he tells you in your face what he and the rest of the Palestinians want. His message is compelling, no less because Ehrenreich portrays the Israelis as brutal occupiers while the Palestinians come across as the humane ones in the story. Tamimi, for example, is shown sitting at his living room with his blond daughter Ahed on his lap. She immediately reminded me of my granddaughter, Maya.
Now there is nothing I want more than to see Maya and Ahed visiting each other’s homes and giggling happily about some common childish matter. However, this will only happen when Ahed has a state of her own; and in her classroom and her textbooks she will be taught that Israel is there to stay; and while there are a lot of grievances in the past, the future holds much better promises.
The question is how to reach such a stage, because when I continued reading I learned that one of the relatives of Bassem Tamimi (Tamim means “innocent” in Hebrew, by the way) had killed an Israeli settler and another escorted the suicide bomber who blew himself up at Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001, killing 15 Israeli civilians, including seven children and a pregnant woman, and wounding 130 others.
This touched a nerve in me. Like all Jerusalemites in those dark days of carnage in our cities, I heard the distant explosion and hurried to call my loved ones. After an agonizing wait, my youngest son answered the phone: “I’m OK. I was 100 feet away but only was thrown to the ground by the blast.”
All Israelis have such memories and fears in the back of their minds, and therefore they are not so quick to embrace the two-state solution hailed by the whole world. Without necessarily having read the editorial in The Los Angeles Times, as I have, they know perfectly well that, “Two states for two peoples may be a messy and imperfect solution, but no one has offered a realistic, workable alternative.” However, Israel did pull out of Gaza, as the world had consistently demanded, and look at what happened next. Who can guarantee that after pulling out from the West Bank, it will not fall into the hands of Hamas as well?
This is precisely where President Obama can make a difference. In the absence of a Palestinian Sadat, who can win the hearts and minds of the Israelis by reassuring them that he sincerely wants peace, the American president can serve as a worthy substitute. His message to the Israelis is simple: The two-state solution is the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Will it put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? No one can tell for sure. However, if Israelis are willing to take the risks involved, then the greatest power on Earth will give them a security belt.
On second thought, maybe I should have stayed at home after all and fought to get a ticket to the Jerusalem Convention Center to listen to President Obama talk to us directly. With all due respect to the newspapers, there are certain things even the best of them can’t possibly deliver.
Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.