Dear President Obama,
Five years ago, in the days leading up to your first inauguration on January 20, 2009, Israel was waging a horrendous bloodbath in the Gaza Strip. The bombardment, Operation Cast Lead, began on December 27, 2008 and ended just 2 days before you took the oath of office. In those 23 days, Israel indiscriminately slaughtered some 1,400 Palestinian men, women and children, the great majority of whom were innocent civilians.
This massacre was cynically timed with your inauguration in mind; Israeli officials knew they could count on President Bush to do their bidding, but they weren’t sure how you might respond. Israel began and ended the military operation on its own terms, according to its own agenda, callously dismissing overtures of peace from its neighbors. (Meshal offers 10-year truce for Palestinian state on ’67 borders)
Only 6 weeks earlier, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, had informed a delegation of European parliamentarians who had traveled to Gaza in early December 2008 that
“the Hamas government had agreed to accept a Palestinian state that followed the 1967 borders and to offer Israel a long-term hudna, or truce, if Israel recognized the Palestinians’ national rights.”
Israel rejected Haniyeh’s offer; it had other plans.
The Goldstone fact-finding mission from the United Nations provides the most authoritative compilation and review of the events and actions that took place during Operation Cast Lead. I hope you will read it. I urge you to read it.
Listening to your first inaugural speech again tonight, I clearly heard you say the following at 15:00:
“To the Muslim World, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Six months later you traveled to Cairo and your speech at Cairo University was so hopeful to many people in the world, including me.
“I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.”
That speech still gives me chills but your actions since have not inspired confidence. Are you still looking for a way forward or have you decided to tread the same old path of your predecessors?
I think you know the path forward but perhaps your advisers have counseled you against it. What role has AIPAC (the Israeli lobby) played in muting your desire to build bridges with Palestine? Does the military industrial complex have any sway?
Your vetoes at the UN Security Council shield Israel from any accountability. The predictable “Israel has a right to defend herself” message coming from you in November 2012 while Israel’s drones and F-16s were again targeting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, made my stomach churn.
The decision to send Secretary of State Kerry to wrestle with Netanyahu and Abbas might have been made with good intentions, but the current peace talks are fatally flawed. I wrote to Kerry about that in April and expressed more concerns in August.
Here’s my suggestion, short and sweet with no guarantee of success, but it can’t hurt.
TALK WITH HAMAS.
Forget for a moment that Hamas is designated an FTO (foreign terrorist organization). Recall that Nelson Mandela was also designated a terrorist. . . until he wasn’t. The U.S. is good at labeling people and groups, but not so good at engaging in simple conversations.
No agenda is needed. I’m sure your secret service can manage security issues. Just listen to Haniyeh, don’t try to persuade him to do anything. At the end of the talk, you may be convinced that he’s a terrorist and the U.S. should continue to support Israel’s blockade of 1.7 million people in the Gaza Strip.
Or you might not.
You might see a man who is struggling under tremendous challenges and obstacles (aka blockade) to govern his people. You might learn about some of his attempts to reconcile with Abbas. You might hear some of his ideas for ending the Occupation.
If he’s full of BS, you’ll know it soon enough. If Haniyeh genuinely wants peace, you’ll know that too.
The U.S. cannot be an honest and neutral peace broker in the Middle East if we’re seen sucking up to Israel 24/7. A lasting peace will never be achieved by ignoring a leader democratically elected in free and fair elections.
You have nothing to lose — no third term to worry about, nothing to prove to anyone. Despite the horror stories that your political advisers might be sharing, the path forward with the Muslim world involves sitting down with Haniyeh.
You can do it, I know you can!
Lora A. Lucero