On the occasion of his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, I sent a letter to President Barack Obama. Ten months later, as the whole world is looking with faint hope to the direct negotiations that are expected to resume between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government, the role of the United States government cannot be understated in either contributing to failure by inactive participation or ensuring success by active engagement. Those “direct” negotiations will not be fruitful without “direct” American intervention; essentially to pressure the Israeli government to implement peace; not waste time in process. The Arab Peace Initiative remains on the table, the PLO has been stuck with the absolute minimum of Palestinian demands for some time, and the Israeli government is stuck with its preference to have a “peace process” that is more about process than peace. In that regard, my letter to President Obama is still relevant; probably more urgent.
Mr. Barack Obama, President of the United States of America
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Monzer Zimmo. I am a Palestinian-Canadian. I live and work in the most beautiful Capital city in the world; Ottawa. I am writing this letter on the occasion of you being given the honour of winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
More importantly, I am writing because I agree with you that: (a) you do not YET “deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honoured by this prize;” And (b) you should not view it as recognition of past accomplishment, but rather as a “call to action.” You could not be more accurate, and that accuracy was, and still is, the source of so much hope that people around the Globe – and not just inside the borders of the United States of America – have when it comes to their expectations from you.
There is not a one single factor that will determine whether you deserve that honour or not more than your stand in the application of international law, international norms, basic human decency, and justice for all on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You already know that this conflict is a major source of so much international instability, and you can indeed – more than any other human being – do something to resolve it.
It is not enough to say that you will uphold international law, Mr. President; you must use the power of the office you occupy to implement that principle and demand from all to respect international law. In a commendable attempt to resume meaningful Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, you started by correctly demanding that the government of Israel freezes all settlement activities to allow the resumption of those negotiations. The Israeli prime minister shunned you, and totally rejected your demand. Israeli, Palestinian, and international peace activists called upon you to insist on your demand, for there would be no point in negotiations about how to divide a “Pizza” while one of the parties continues to eat it.
In response to the Israeli arrogance, you retreated back from your original position and called upon the Israeli government to “restrain” settlement activities. That is like telling the party eating the Pizza to eat it slowly while negotiations about dividing it resume. Not only that, but you redirected your pressure towards the weaker party – i.e. the Palestinian leadership – and demanded from Mahmoud Abbas to abandon Palestinian support for the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council; a move that further weakened Abbas among his people to become the least respected Palestinian leader in the history of Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination. That is not leadership, Mr. President; it is capitulation to the likes Netanyahu. That is why I agree with you that you do not YET deserve the honour of winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Having said the above, I can assert that all is not lost YET. You still have it within your grasp to correct the situation. Listen to the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps. Use the massive power of your office to bring sanity to the current Israeli leadership, and if necessary impose on them the just terms of settlement that are known to all. The keys are known, and you already articulated your willingness to respect them. Upholding international law is one key; respect for human dignity is another; equal humanity of all is a third; and implementing what has become the international consensus on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a fourth. The Arab Peace Initiative – that is offering the state of Israel permanent peace with all Arab and Muslim countries in return for Israeli adherence to international law – is still on the table. Take it seriously, adopt it as the basis of your policy, and put in place the mechanism to implement it. Take the initiative to lead, Mr. President, and all others – including most Israeli leaders – will follow. You can do it, and that is why I agree with you that you should view this honour as “a call to action,” and I hope you do.
Finally, I look forward to the day in which I will congratulate you for deserving the honour of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope that your good sense of justice and your eloquence will be translated into action to achieve peace and justice for all peoples of this small planet Earth; not just for the powerful few.
Hope is the stuff from which life is made!