Put yourselves in Palestinian shoes, Obama urges Israelis
AMERICAN President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to Israel's people over the heads of its government yesterday by calling on them to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians and pressure the country's political leadership to seek peace.
In a speech deploying his full range of rhetorical gifts, the US president first cast himself as an unyielding friend of Israel before appealing to ordinary Israelis by asking them to recognise that Palestinians shared their hopes and aspirations, but were being denied the right of an independent state.
Addressing an audience of around 1,000 students at Jerusalem's International Convention Centre, Mr Obama then went a step further by urging a public long-wary of him to pressure Israel's political leaders to take risks for peace.
"Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see," he said.
Many Israelis would regard his plea for peace with scepticism, the US president acknowledged: "But the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognised.
"Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day."
In an implicit rebuff to hard-line pro-settlers in Israel's newly formed coalition government, he linked the practices of injustice to the side-effects of the country's settlement policies in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will form part of their future state.
"It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished," Mr Obama said. "It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home.
"Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land."
Citing the bilateral support for Israel in the US Congress, Mr Obama said it would be politically more convenient for him to ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But he believed in speaking the truth to friends, he said. And peace was necessary to safeguard Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish state as well as in meeting Palestinian aspirations.
It would mean abandoning settlement building and giving up dreams of establishing a Greater Israel.
Quoting the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, the president said: "It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel.
"The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the recognition of an independent and viable Palestine," he added to loud applause.
There was mixed reaction to Mr Obama's speech among audience members. Noam Eliahu (25), a technology student at Haifa university, said she was "inspired". But Dani Dayan, a former leader of the Settlers Council, accused Mr Obama of offering a "utopia" with no idea of how to get there. (© Daily Telegraph, London)