Jack Tame: Reality bites on Israel tour

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The news footage played a sorry little tale: a typical set-up and typical photo op in a dimmed room with two drooping flags. United States President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas buttoned their jackets, faced the cameras and shook hands firmly for a flashbulb few seconds. Obama beamed like a dumb-lucky Stones fan who'd cornered Mick Jagger in a hallway. Snap snap. Snap snap.

"Thaaanks. Got it!" called an unseen voice.

The teeth were gone in an instant, the cheeks sank, and without even looking at each other Obama and Abbas lowered into their chairs, a picture of wearied men. That's that, then.

Even for the most optimistic, Obama's tour of Israel never seemed likely to effect monumental progress. A few photo ops were about the best anyone had hoped for, and before flying out the President's staff insisted on lowering expectations to greater depths. A "listening tour", as they described it, again sounded Rolling Stones-fan-esque.

Considering it was his first tour to Israel as President, the approach rather contrasted Obama's original, lofty presidential dreams.

Back in early 2009, before the thwacking realities of recession and Congressional impasse, the President-of-promise described peacemaking in the Middle East as a priority of his Administration.

On his first day in the job he established a special envoy to the Middle East.

But Obama's relations with the Israeli Prime Minister have been frosty at best. In the lead-up to November's election, when Obama downplayed the threat posed by Iran, many Americans accused their President of abandoning Israel as an ally. Peace talks stalled. Israel continued constructing settlements along the West Bank and the President seemed to all but throw in the towel.

It was a sneak attack, then, that after two days of bleak photo ops and "listening" Obama should gather in the reins and try to kick-start the mule. The key address of his Israel tour was delicately scripted, broadcasted live and, as it turned out, warmly received.

A two-state solution, he told hundreds of Israeli students, was the only way to ensure Israel's ongoing security. He implored them to think of Palestinian children: "Look at the world through their eyes." The crowd applauded and whooped at his words.

Perhaps the low expectations were to blame; no one anticipated such strong talk. But though his Congress still can't pass a budget, on a far more impassioned conflict Obama briefly united the divided with his rhetoric of hope.

It's a start, isn't it? Another one. A pin step in the direction of progress.

Israelis and Palestinians need not be reminded that change is another thing all together.

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- Herald on Sunday

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