A short trip to Jerusalem yesterday reminded me of Barak Obama´s visit to the region, starting today. His visit prompts a brief look at ‘big politics’ in the Levant. Many analysts emphasise the central role of the US in the Israli-Palestinian conflict, so that this brief stop, despite the low expectations, is still an important event. If you have read my post on `Welcome to the borderland´, you know what could have waited for Obama at the airport immigration control. Were he not president of the United States, this funny Haaretz´ story might have been reality.
© borderlandlevant – Kind David Hotel in Jerusalem has a prominent guest these days
Although Obama said before arriving that he will mainly be listening, he is also going to say something: In a symbolically significant gesture, he will speak to Israeli students as he spoke to Egyptian students in his 2009 address in Cairo. Hence, Obama chose not to speak in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, but rather to a young audience, representing the future of Israel and not its political past and present. A second symbolic gesture is that only students from universities within the 1967 borders are allowed to attend, excluding students from Ariel University in a settlement in Palestine. Questions of the legitimacy of the settlements on Palestinian Territory are still a decisive factor in the conflict and its potential solution. While building hundreds of houses there and thereby setting preconditions in stone, Israel urges Palestinian politicians to negotiate without preconditions. In his unchallenged dry sense of humour, Avi Shlaim, brilliant UK/Israeli historian, compares this situation with two men eating pizza: “It would be like two men negotiating the division of a pizza with one of them continuing to swallow chunks of it.” 
According to Haaretz, both the settlements and Iran are high on the agenda in the talks between Netanyahu and Obama. And when it comes to Iran, an amusing incident happened only minutes after Obama left Airforce One today. During a demonstration of facilities, set up to showcase the US-Israeli co-developed Iron Dome defence system, he was told to follow the red line. Obama joked at that and was saying Netanyahu is always talking about `Red Lines´ . Obama was referring to the eye-catching moment at the UN-summit last September, when Netanyahu had shown a board, highlighting that time is running out to stop Iran from gaining the capacity to build a nuclear bomb.
I am taking the occasion to add something to Netanyahu´s publicly appealing board on the `Red Line´. Applying the `Red Line´ to the settlement issue, Obama should make clear, that, in the interest of Israel, there is no way of continuing construction activities on Palestinian territory while at the same time negotiating the future of two states:
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/files/2012/12/obama-briefing-room.jpg – amended: borderlandlevant
© All rights reserved: Sigi Atteneder, 2013