Tom Blount: Don’t expect a quick fix
On the first day of spring, this is how “euronews” described President Obama’s trip to Israel:
“Barack Obama’s visit to Israel for the first time as U.S. president on Wednesday … is high on symbolism but low on expectations. He brings with him no new solutions for peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories, no new strategy for ending the war in Syria and no new plan to prevent a nuclear armed Iran.
“This flies in the face of the policy in his first term in office when aides said he would only visit Israel if he has something concrete to accomplish.” The carefully choreographed three-day trip, euronews wrote, “instead aims at resetting the president’s often strained relations with Israelis and Palestinians.”
Don’t misinterpret euronews’ stance. It wasn’t overly critical of Obama; it merely pointed to the complexity of the Israel-Palestinian situation, further complicated by what’s going on in Iran and Syria.
Obama’s trip triggered memories of my own 19-day study tour or Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel in mid-1974, billed as “the first Editorial Conference on the Middle East.” Nearly 90 American journalists made the trip.
Upon my return, as editor of The News-Tribune (Beaver Falls, Pa.) at the time, I produced a 24-page tabloid titled “Jerusalem – Palestinians, the real keys to peace in the Middle East.”
A considerable portion of that report focused on “the Palestinian problem,” during which I noted: “It is obvious neither side – Israeli or Arab – will allow what is past to be past but going backward to assess blame for what has happened won’t help the situation today; it only can hinder it. Hatred in the Middle East runs deep – it has for more than 60 centuries. It’s obvious then that the answer does not lie in the past but in the present, which is shaping the future.”
Listed are some headlines from that section of the report: Palestine problem is an old one; Egypt takes hard line; Palestinians – tools many use as they see fit; In Syria, ‘We teach them to be loyal, not to hate’; ‘Whatever Palestinians want is all right’; ‘Facts,’ figures often conflict.” The articles so titled explained the plight of the Palestinians from a wide variety of viewpoints.
Another major topic of discussion was headlined, ‘One single most important aspect.’ The lead read, “Just as the ‘rights of the Palestinians’ has become a banner for Arabs, determination that Jerusalem shall not be under sovereignty of the Arab world – or any nation within it – is uppermost on Israel’s priority list. It is obvious peace will not come to the Middle East until the Palestinian problem is solved. Peace will not be achieved, either, until the Jerusalem question is resolved.”
Those words were written four decades ago. Unfortunately, they remain as true today as they were then. Over the years since, more obstacles have been erected along the path to peace. Among them:
• More than 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinians say the ever-growing settlements are a sign of bad faith and make it increasingly difficult to partition the land between two peoples. – The Associated Press
• President Barack Obama said last week the United States “will do what is necessary” to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and was praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his resolve. – NBC News
• Obama warned last week that if Syria let the “genie out of the bottle” by using chemical weapons in its civil war, it would unleash a serious international response. – globalpost
That’s why expectations for any breakthrough during and after Obama’s visit have been so low. And why the journey to peace is so slow.
Tom Blount retired as editor of The High Point Enterprise in 2012.