It is good that in his second term as President of the United States, Barack Obama has learned how to communicate with the people of Israel. He no longer gives the impression that he is talking down to them, or lecturing them; instead, in a nationally televised speech last Thursday to about a thousand young people at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre – and an ideologically diverse group, at that – he showed emotional warmth, admiration for Zionism and its extraordinary accomplishments, and empathy for Israel’s embattled position in the world.
By many accounts, Mr. Obama moved his audience especially when he said, “I want to tell you – particularly the young people – so that there’s no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America – Atem lo levad: You are not alone.”
Early in his first term it was hard for most Israelis not to be unsettled by Mr. Obama’s apparently apologetic tone to the Arab and Muslim worlds in his speech in Cairo – as if undervaluing the grave threats to Israel from many in those worlds.
Last week, by contrast, he invited young Israelis to put themselves in the shoes of young Palestinians, to empathize with them in their aspirations to be citizens of a state. One commentator said that, in this part of his speech, Mr. Obama was like a left-wing Zionist, in other words, not a stranger to Israel, but a specific type of Israeli.
Mr. Obama did not draw any hard line, or threaten anyone with dire consequences if progress were not made toward peace any time soon. He did not imply, for example, that any Israeli family living in the West Bank that adds a patio or a new wing to their house is destroying all possibility of an eventual peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
None of this amounted to any concrete steps toward a two-state solution. But it helped displace a suspicion that Mr. Obama is an appeaser who regards Israel as a troublesome nuisance. Such confidence in a great ally is necessary for progress.
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