The first was why had he come? Was it to reach an agreement regarding dealing with Iran’s steady progress towards a nuclear bomb or to exert pressure towards a solution of the Palestinian problem? Or perhaps simply to drum up support among American Jewry, which has been somewhat disenchanted with him of late? Opinions were divided, but the general consensus seems to have been ‘all of the above,’ which combined could be defined as something of a Gordian knot (i.e. an intractable problem).
Then there was the question of his schedule during the three days of his visit, with all the attendant security and protocol issues. Who would get to meet the President in person, who would be invited to one of the official dinners, and who would simply sit in an auditorium and listen to him speak? Among politicians and leaders of various kinds there was a great deal of jockeying for pole positions, and for sure not everyone got satisfaction, but a fair number did. Even Israel’s recently-crowned beauty queen, who hails originally from Ethiopia, was at the President’s dinner, rubbing shoulders with Chief Rabbis, politicians, mayors and leading members of the artistic and literary fraternity.
But what concerned the residents of Israel most, and particularly those of Jerusalem, were the traffic arrangements and restrictions during the presidential visit, which one wit has defined as an ‘Obamination.’ The main highway between Jerusalem and the airport just outside Tel Aviv was closed before, during and after the arrival of the President and of Secretary of State, John Kerry, the previous day. Almost all the roads in certain parts of Jerusalem were closed throughout a good part of the visit, causing distress and discomfort to thousands of residents, and harming local shops and businesses.
Because I live in a suburb situated just outside Jerusalem the only policy I could adopt was not to venture out of its confines between Obama’s arrival and his departure. Luckily, we are well-equipped with shops, banks, supermarkets and all that one really needs to survive. Granted, we couldn’t have got to our subscription concert on Wednesday evening, but that was cancelled anyway, so all was well in that respect. I’d just like to point out that when we moved here over twenty years ago there was not a single shop, bank or even ATM, and just one very tacky supermarket, which I have shunned ever since its rival opened.
The overwhelming impression Obama made was one of support for Israel, concern for its security, admiration for its achievements, respect for the Jewish and Zionist heritage and warmth and affection for its leaders. In his speeches he tackled the various thorny issues that confront Israel today, and when he addressed a gathering of over two thousand students he encouraged them to put pressure on the leadership to attain a peaceful solution with the Palestinians, one that involves establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Obama stressed that this is the only way Israel can be certain of remaining Jewish and democratic. His words were met with enthusiastic applause from the audience, which consisted of young people from all ethnic groups in Israel, but excluded students attending the institution of higher education situated across the Green Line.
Obama’s speech made it all sound very simple. Would that it were so. Alexander the Great, who cut the Gordian knot, thereby solving a problem which seemed intractable at the time, might have had a solution of another kind, but these are different times, and so problems cannot be solved with the stroke of a sword. Moreover, considering the results of the last elections and the composition of the present government, Obama’s efforts will probably have little effect. But it would seem that by addressing the students he is hoping for better results in the future.
And so are we all.