President Barack Obama’s whirlwind trip to the Middle East is complete, and despite early reports to the contrary, the diplomatic takeaways of his visit to Israel as it celebrates 65 years as a free, independent, and Democratic state, are significant.
From the moment the president stepped off Air Force One, he was greeted with smiles and warmth, and he gave back the same. The American Jewish community appreciates that the president chose Israel as his first foreign destination of his second term, and that while there, he repeatedly and unequivocally asserted the unshakable U.S. support for a secure Israel in its ancestral homeland, and reaffirmed the unbreakable bonds between two nations with shared values of democracy and freedom.
Noting that “peace is possible,” President Obama firmly aligned himself with the Israeli position that direct negotiations with the Palestinians, not ill-conceived unilateral maneuvers, should proceed immediately, without precondition, statements made in Jerusalem and in Ramallah while with President Abbas. Americans and Israelis share a desire for a peaceful solution to a painful conflict resulting in two democratic, secure states for two peoples. Both sides will face difficult choices, but if the PA truly wishes to advance Palestinian aspirations of nationhood, it must return to the negotiating table. The four rockets fired onto Israeli civilians on the same day President Obama delivered his message of hope underscores the challenges facing Israel, and that the path to peace is not simple.
View of Iran
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu notably reasserted their strong consensus on Iran, namely that it is absolutely vital to American, Israeli and world interests to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Referring to potential “nuclear terrorism” by an Iranian government that respects neither the rights of its citizens nor the responsibilities of a nation, the two leaders agreed that while diplomacy and strong sanctions are preferable, all options remain on the table.
Asserting that Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship are important security components for the United States, President Obama stressed that the bilateral military relationship between the two nations, which will include renewed military aid, supports vital U.S. interests. The president’s first stop in Israel was to review a battery of the American-supported Iron Dome missile defense system, technology that is credited with intercepting and destroying 90 percent of the rockets launched last year into Israel.
But the most notable takeaway from the president’s historic trip was his powerful evocation of 3,000 years of Jewish history, including the birth of the Jewish national movement of renewal in its historical homeland, as he embraced a compelling vision of Zionism, rooted in national purpose and profound ideas, and filled with hope for the future.
At the iconic Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, the president viewed the 2,400-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, a testament to the ancient Jewish connection to the land. While laying a wreath at the grave of Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, he reaffirmed the rightness of a Jewish state in this ancient homeland. And at Yad Vashem, the president recognized that Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but that its future existence and security ensures that there will never be another.
Bonnie Deutsch Burdman is director of Community Relations/Government Affairs for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation.