When President Obama’s itinerary for his upcoming Israel trip was leaked to the press, it appeared to be noticeably safe. It is true that Obama will make a number of important gestures during the visit, chief among them laying wreathes in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, as well as on the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin. But over the course of his 48-hour stay, Obama will remain mostly in Jerusalem, leaving only to have coffee with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and to visit an Iron Dome battery.
He is ignoring Tel Aviv completely. The Tuesday afternoon of his trip will be spent touring the Israel Museum, an action that is just so very predictable.
Given that this trip will be subject to immense scrutiny and meticulous talmudic dissection by media and politicos alike, Obama’s caution is understandable. He has to apportion a good deal of his time to meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu, considering the animus that has existed between the two, and the critical importance of the bilateral relationship. His people also must have had to consider his opposition back home.
Short of scaling Masada under the midday sun, there probably isn’t a lot Obama can do to convince the Emergency Committee for Israel wing of American conservatism that he isn’t secretly an ally of Khaled Mashal.
Yet his people’s unimaginativeness is most disappointing, considering the work Obama has to do while he’s in Israel. His principal duty ought to be to reinvigorate the peace process toward a two-state solution, about which nothing has been done since the conclusion of the settlement freeze, in September 2010. Obama must also do more, it follows, to support those in Israel who seek peace — not exclusively the peace camp and its institutions, like Peace Now, which are on the wane, but all Israelis sympathetic to the idea that this conflict must come to a resolution.
With this in mind, the location of his planned speech, set to occur at either the Israel Museum or Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, is wholly inadequate in its tepidness. If Obama is to shatter the present impasse and break through to the Israeli public, all the while demonstrating his and America’s unequivocal commitment to that nation and to peace, he must go to Rabin Square.
The symbolism of a speech in Tel Aviv’s main square would be mighty powerful. Rabin Square has long been the site where Israelis have gathered to protest against Israel’s excesses and to call for an end to the occupation.
As many as 400,000 marched in order to voice their disgust with Israel’s role in the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila in 1982, while regular peace rallies were held in Tel Aviv after 1993 and the signing of the Oslo Accords. More recently, the demonstrations of the J14 movement dominated 2011: September 3 saw 450,000 Israelis picket across the nation, including 300,000 in Tel Aviv, demanding social justice.