The Jay Shapiro Hour
He's no Mahatma Obama
By Michael Freund
If anyone still thinks of US President Barack Obama in superhuman or pseudo-messianic terms, those thoughts can now surely be put to rest.
Just prior to his joint meeting on Monday in New York with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the free world put on a performance that was so dreadfully uninspired as to border on the unpresidential.
In a statement to reporters, Obama could barely contain his annoyance, emphatically declaring that "simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations - it is time to move forward. It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals."
Sounding like a scorned substitute teacher being ignored by his pupils, Obama lectured his Middle Eastern guests, telling them, "Permanent-status negotiations must begin, and begin soon. And more importantly, we must give those negotiations the opportunity to succeed."
SOME MAY cheer this "straight talk" as precisely the kind of push that is needed to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But the truth is that it is more a reflection of the president's impetuosity than of a well-crafted policy. As such, its chances of success are highly doubtful.
Indeed, the US media was rife with leaks from administration officials about how "impatient" Obama is. Fox News, for example, reported: "Though it's early in the Obama administration, aides suggest he's running out of patience with both sides." The New York Times took note of "the president's impatience with the slow pace of the peace negotiations," and Politico revealed that White House "aides indicated that Obama is frustrated and impatient with what they described as foot-dragging by the Israelis and inflexible positions from the Palestinians."
The president is clearly a prisoner of his own restlessness, diving head-first into one complex and knotty problem after another with little to show for it but bruises. Thus, the same man who tried to rush through an unprecedented overhaul of America's colossal health-care system in just a matter of a few weeks, now seeks to solve a century-old conflict by forcing a photo-op meeting in New York in order to jump-start negotiations in its wake.
This is no way to run a country, and certainly no way to bring about a real and lasting peace - not among bickering members of Congress, and certainly not between Arabs and Israelis.
YET PERHAPS the strangest thing of all is that Obama himself should know better than to act with such rashness. After all, just two weeks ago, on a highly-publicized visit to a high school in Arlington, Virginia, he cited Mahatma Gandhi, who was a pillar of patience, as one of his key influences.
Asked by a precocious ninth-grader whom he would like to dine with, the president replied, "You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine... He is somebody whom I find a lot of inspiration in."
Assuming that to be true, it is hard to understand how Obama failed to learn the key lesson that embodied Gandhi's storied political career, which India's founding father once pithily summed up as follows: "Patience and perseverance, if we have them, overcome mountains of difficulties."
As he stood alongside Netanyahu and Abbas, Obama sounded nothing like the iconic Indian leader. "We have to find a way forward," he said, as though offering some profound new insight that no one else had thought of previously. "Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency," Obama added, once again invoking haste as a cornerstone of his approach.
Little thought seems to have gone into how to reach his stated goals, other than to express irritation and let off some steam.
But instead of coming across as willful and determined, Obama sounded petulant and arrogant, particularly when he sought to suggest that the Middle East's complexity and history must be shunted aside to move forward.
With all due respect to the American president, he is obviously no Mahatma Obama. He is a man in a rush, who obviously thinks he knows best - better than Israel's public and its leaders - what is in Israel's interests.
But here, too, the president would do well to recall the words of his icon. It was Gandhi who proclaimed that "it is unwise to be toosure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."
Even the man occupying the White House.
--- from the September 24 Jerusalem Post