Obama’s Cairo outreach to Muslims evaporates in the heat of "settlement" activity

Following US President Obama’s June 4th Cairo speech to the Muslim world, a horde of analysts rushed to interpret his message.

While the media was awash with all kinds of opinions, the dominant and most overwhelming one took the view that America’s new kid on the block was determined to reverse strained relations with the house of Islam caused by the Bush administration’s belligerent policies.

Even Muslims were overwhelmed with a new sense of expectation. The choice of venue, the timing and the content seemed to suggest that America’s first black President was ready to roll back decades of mistrust and injustice. Indeed, his fast-paced rhetoric implied too, that Obama was in fact impatient to make amends with Muslims, who have for far too long been disregarded as the “other” in the power-equation of US policies.

Harsh pro-Israeli critics of his speech fueled many arguments that seemed to convince Muslims about Obama’s “sincerity”. In other words if Israel says that his message was profoundly “anti-Israel” and a short while later public opinion polls there see his approval rating drop like a stone, why should Muslims doubt his “sincerity”?

Much of the anti-Obama invective emanating from Israeli sources blamed him for misreading and thereby misrepresenting the Palestinian struggle. Firstly they complained that the Cairo speech repeatedly drew from familiar arguments of Israel’s bitter enemies.

Their next dissenting point was that Obama had implied that Palestinian suffering can be equated with the Nazi Holocaust, a comparison they found to be grotesque, wild and inaccurate. Some even suggested that he slandered Israel for implying that it behaved like Nazi Germany.

But perhaps the most stinging attack on him was based on a far-fetched interpretation that said he had misrepresented the European murder of six million Jews as the “ideological basis for Israel’s creation”.

However, Hillary Clinton, five months later has in an unambiguous manner revealed that Obama’s Cairo debacle was no more than a farce. Muslim observers who remained skeptical at the time and who insisted that deeds –” not fancy words –” will be the acid test for Obama’s “sincerity” now feel vindicated.

Not so pro-Israel pundits who attacked and demonized Obama, for they are probably surprised that his Cairo stunt was no more than a sop! As an after-thought they could be relishing their harsh stance towards him as a direct contribution to what clearly amounts to an embarrassing about-turn by Obama on his “settlement freeze” policy.

So, what about the expectation and illusion of hope, particularly raised in Palestinian circles?

In my view this too has been misplaced, given the fact that Obama established his anti-Palestinian credentials during the American elections with his promise that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided”.

While Jewish analysts at the time may have held the view that Obama’s speech validated an Arab and Muslim narrative; Muslims and Palestinians in particular remain convinced that the new kid on the block holds as much promise of a “just world” as his war-mongering predecessor.

To gain an insight into the devastating effects of settlement activity, we read of a seven year old Palestinian boy whose mother notices bulging backpack going to school and back. When opened, the bags contained his toys. Upon questioning the child explained that he overheard his parents talking about the demolition order on their home and wanted to make sure that if he returns from school to a demolished home, his most valuable toys will be saved.