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The June 4 Speech by President Obama and the Identity Test to Israelis and Palestinians

President of the Peres Center for Peace
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The Middle East and the Muslim world are waiting anxiously for President Obama's address in Cairo to this region and to the Islamic world.

President Obama will likely reach out to the Islamic world and present a vision for peace in the Middle East that isolates the fundamentalists and the extremists.

The real question does not center on Obama's vision, because that is fairly well-known; he wants to see better relations between Washington and the Islamic world. He believes in diplomatic engagement with Iran and will advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. In the process, both sides will have to adhere to the stipulations of the roadmap, i.e. a total Israeli settlement freeze, the removal of illegal outposts in the West Bank, removal of roadblocks, etc. The Palestinians will have to combat terrorism, especially from Hamas, and begin to establish modern, accountable and transparent future state institutions.

The real question centers on the equation and how the parties will react. It is clear that both Hamas, who are mostly religious fundamentalists, and the settlers, who are mostly religious zealots, will object to Obama's overtures.

This creates a challenge to the secular majority in both nations. The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government have to represent this majority opinion in their societies and express this opinion to Obama. In this way, Obama poses an important challenge to the two sides. Will secularism and modernity prevail over religious and messianic beliefs?

The same equation is true for the Middle East and the Islamic world. It is clear that Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas will object to Obama; yet the majority of the Islamic world, while traditional in nature, is not fundamentalist but modern and secular with a different set of cultural values with respect to their tradition.

President Obama is doing the right thing by finally forcing the parties to define not only their relationships and policies but their very identities. It will be a prolonged and difficult process, but there is hope that given this dichotomy, the parties will choose the right path and move closer to the West and closer to peaceful solutions between Palestinians and Israelis and the region as a whole.

It is to be hoped that the leaders of the Middle East region will be amenable to Obama's speech. Thereafter, the American administration should convene a regional conference, a kind of Madrid II or Annapolis II, in which the parties will launch bilateral and regional negotiations, which will include the Palestinian-Israeli track, the exploration of the Syrian track (with American mediation), and a regional track based also on the Saudi initiative and on ideas raised by Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit in Washington.

In Obama's words, the region should respond to his coming speech on June 4 with a resounding "Yes, we can!" because of our unwavering hope and need for peace and the unique opportunity that Obama presents us to further these ideals.

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