Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 29, 2010 - 12:00am

If Israel had a real peace camp, if the silent majority had broken its sickly silence, if more Israelis approached the situation as a collective rather than individuals yearning for the next holiday or car, if more Israelis refused to accept blindly the deceptions of Israeli diplomacy and propaganda, Rabin Square would have been filled with demonstrators yesterday. Among the banners and flags, one sign would have stood out in this hour of risks and fateful decisions: "Thank you, friend." Thank you, Barack Obama, friend of Israel.

The tidal wave of slurs and slanders, the unitary portrayal of Obama as someone trying to subjugate and humiliate Israel should have been answered with a dissenting voice saying that Obama was doing exactly what a true friend would do. Yes, it's unpleasant, but after 43 years there's just no other way. After a regrettable one-year delay and despite constant doubts and question marks, there now seems to be a chance that the 44th president of the United States will prevail where all his predecessors failed. There's a chance Obama will pull Israel out of the crisis it created and work to achieve a better future, a future where it will claim what's its own, but only what's really its own.

The first step is encouraging and hope-inspiring. Among Obama's modest demands - a construction freeze in Jerusalem and extending the freeze in the settlements, two basic conditions for "negotiations without preconditions" and for anyone who really wants a two-state solution - there's a demand that the Israelis themselves should have made long ago.

Obama is asking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and through him every Israeli, to finally speak the truth. He's asking Netanyahu and the rest of us: What on earth do you actually want? Enough with the misleading answers; the moment of truth is here. Enough with the tricks - a neighborhood here, a settlement expansion there. Just tell us: Where are you heading? Do you want to go on receiving unprecedented aid from the United States, do you want to become part of the Middle East, do you want to achieve peace?

If you do, please start behaving accordingly, including halting all construction in all settlements, everywhere, for all time, and begin evacuating them instead. Any action by Israel would be reminiscent of the three no's of Khartoum: No to ending the occupation, no to peace, no to friendship with America.

Obama's demands are minimal. Not just continuing the construction freeze, but dealing with the core issues, a two-year deadline to reach a solution and the demand that Israel speak the truth to others and itself. All these things should have been obvious if Israel were really aiming for a solution. Earlier presidents let Israel off and did not press for answers. Obama, faithful for the time being to the great promise he made when he was elected, is no longer willing to put up with the deceit. We now need to see if he'll withstand the pressure and keep up his pressure on Israel.

The Israelis should be thankful to Obama for holding a mirror in front of them and saying that this is how your continuous deception looks. The Israelis should be just as thankful to Obama for being the first president ready to make Israel pay for its responsibility in maintaining the status quo. This is an American innovation supported by a shifting mood in world politics.

Take heed: The world is beginning to demand that Israel take responsibility for its actions in Dubai and Sheikh Jarrah, in Operation Cast Lead and Ramat Shlomo. From America and Europe, the time of responsibility and payback has arrived.

After 43 years of a vicious occupation, these, too, are minimal demands. Obama didn't humiliate Israel. Israel humiliated itself for a generation, thinking it could do whatever it wanted - talk peace and build settlements, entrench an occupation and still be considered a democracy, while living on American support and rejecting its requests. Since all of Obama's demands should have come from Israel itself, Obama is merely acting the way a friend should act. And for that he deserves those three words, from the bottom of our hearts: Thank you, friend.


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