President Obama gave a much anticipate address this afternoon – one which responded to a variety of events including the so-called “Arab Spring” and to the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.  You can follow this link to read the entire speech, but for me, there were a few things which really stood out.

I was most struck by the President’s assertion that we don’t need to accept how things are, but can work toward how they could be – with humility.  While I am not sure that such humility about the role of history and indigenous culture was a part of all that he suggested we could achieve or help others to achieve, I appreciate the President’s commitment to what I would call hopeful realism. 

On the matter of Israel and the Palestinians, I think he addressed real concerns on both sides, appropriately discomforted some players on each of those sides, and made it absolutely clear that while peace could never be imposed by any government or other diplomatic body, both sides have a pressing responsibility to work this out sooner than later.  Playing for time is in nobody’s interest, no matter how much they may currently think it is.

Of course, asserting the dangers of procrastinating when it comes to peace is easier than overcoming the desire to procrastinate – especially given that some on both sides feel entirely justified in doing so.  I hope that we can move forward.  In fact, I know that we must, but doing so is built on a premise which the President shared in his talk – one about which I am not sure he is correct: “I’m (President Obama) convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.

Is he right?  I am just not sure.  I am not sure about the percentages on either side, nor am I clear about the percentages on the two sides being close.  I even understand why a stateless people will find it much harder to let go of the past given that their present is far more tenuous.  But I also know that both sides must do this, regardless of how they assess their present circumstances,  if they really hope to live with any measure of peace and security in the future.

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