September 2, 2014

The Peace Process – For Washington

President Obama is back home after a diplomatic mission to the Middle East in which he exhorted the Israeli people, particularly young Israelis, to ignore the competing claims of extremists and take the push for peace into their own hands. His speech on this topic at the Jerusalem International Convention Center seems to have hit a responsive chord.

It got me thinking that the President should repackage some of the same themes for a national address as Washington enters a crucial phase in negotiations over a budget deal between Democrats and Republicans. While the policy choices in each situation are not directly comparable, some of the points he made in the Jerusalem speech could resonate in this country as well.

Obama could begin by addressing America’s youth with the same message he had for Israelis.

“Part of the reason I like talking to young people,” he said, “is because no matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, their ambition always gives me hope. ... I believe that you will shape our future.”

Next, he could remind Americans that even deep differences can be bridged if the ultimate goal is important enough.

“Negotiations will be necessary, but there's little secret about where they must lead.”

In Israel, the President was referring to a two-state solution but the same words could be used to describe the need for budget negotiations in which all sides agree that the result should be a fiscal sustainability plan.

Then he could expand on the need for compromise in pursuit of the goal.

“There will be differences about how to get there,” Obama said in Israel. “There are going to be hard choices along the way.”

Most importantly, he could remind the American people, as he did the Israelis, that they – not just politicians – can bring about solutions.  

“And let me say this as a politician -- I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

“I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at the young people who’ve not yet learned a reason to mistrust, or those young people who’ve learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents, because they simply recognize that we hold more hopes in common than fears that drive us apart. Your voices must be louder than those who would drown out hope. Your hopes must light the way forward.”

Sometimes it’s easier to see problems more clearly when they are viewed from the outside. In Israel, President Obama was clear about the difficult choices facing those who seek peace. But he was also clear about the need to overcome differences in pursuit of shared objectives and about the need for the people to lend a helping hand by pushing their leaders to take risks.

Such clarity is needed at home. Indeed, negotiations between people of the same nationality over a budget should be far easier than getting people of different nations to agree on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

And if by chance the President and his colleagues on Capitol Hill need a little push, then we the people should be there to provide it.