Terry Ahwal
June 8, 2009 - 12:00am

The President’s speech in Cairo was inspiring, unprecedented, truthful and courageous. I have been waiting for this speech most of my life.

It is the first time an American President spoke publicly about how “Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspiration”. The mere utterances of these words bring hope to people who lost hope not only to the Muslim world but to people in the United States. The only people who should fear what was uttered yesterday are extremists from all wakes of life. For too long the people who advocate violence, tension and division used the world as their field and raked havoc on all of us and as a result we all lost. With his speech this President Obama opened the door of opportunity to seek a world without violence and peace.

The President’s words are a great beginning; now that he set the tone of reconciliation we should match it with constructive actions. We should set an aggressive timetable to end the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. The time of pretending that we are pursuing peace in the Middle East while violence is rampant put us all in danger. Our past misguided foreign policy in the region has affected our domestic policy and made us vulnerable. For so long we have empowered extremists by our policies toward the Arab and Muslim world and harmed millions of people who just want to live free of violence in their homeland.

This week President Obama gave us a green light on changing the status quo in the region. He laid out the principle for a just peace in which everyone can come out winner. Even with its past skewed Middle East policy the people in the Middle East believed that America is the only country that has the power to bring genuine peace to the region. We can begin by removing the Israeli occupation as soon as possible and matching the rhetoric with action regarding all human rights. Just as the President set a timetable for the removal of the American occupation from Iraq in 2012 we can demand the same from Israel. With a clear timetable for evacuating the occupation and setting severe sanctions for noncompliance to all sides, we can inherit a stable region.

In his speech, the President asks the Palestinians to forget the past and look to the future. The president should know that no one forgets the past. It would have been better if he said forgive the past and look for a better future. We all have the capacity to forgive but not to forget, people cannot erase the pain of dislocation, isolation, humiliation and killing; but they can rise above the hate and forgive those who trespass against them.

America has a dual responsibility of helping both the Israeli and the Palestinian to get out of the rut of war and destruction. The majority of the Palestinian people have supported the terms of every negotiated settlement even when the situation on the ground was deteriorating. It is time for the Israelis to do the same. The President will be disingenuous if he does not pressure both sides to reach a fast agreement. Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab countries will run to the negotiating table if we stop the flow of military dollar which is estimated to be more than $30 billion in military aids for Israel according to the Israeli press as well as billions to Egypt and Jordan. This money should be better spent on our neglected education and health systems here in the United States.

As for our member of Congress, it is time that they stop letting our foreign policy be dictated by foreign power and influential interest groups. It is time for them to say publicly what they say privately that in the current statue quo no one comes out a winner. Nice, historic speeches are wonderful but we should not waste an once in a life time opportunity to become a beacon to the world. This includes people in the Middle East. Although the words uttered about the harsh reality of occupation is hard to seems as a slap in the face to Israel, because no American President or officials dare to utter the truth publicly, a day will come when the Israelis will realize that this President is truly their best friend.

TERRY AHWAL is a local Palestinian American. She was born in the West Bank city of Ramallah and is on the executive board of the Ramallah Federation. Write to her at Terryahwal@aol.com.


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