If you're like me—raised Jewish but questioned your faith after spending two mortifying years studying the Israel/Palestine conflict—you had extremely low expectations for Barack Obama's trip to Israel this week. Historically, America has unilaterally backed whatever Israel wanted.
And, If you're anything like me, you found that President Obama rose above your abysmally low expectations.
The minute Barack Obama got off the plane in Tel Aviv critics were claiming he was the "first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist"—i.e., he was there to take pictures, not get shit done. To be sure, his list of tourist activities made my 2006 trip to Israel look like a bathroom break at a strip mall but he also made a surprisingly candid speech arguing for a two-state solution in Israel. This is something a president has never done before:
Put yourself in [the Palestinian's] shoes — look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents, every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their homes. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
The exciting thing about this speech isn't what he said, but that he crafted it well enough that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu wasn't too pissed off to get lunch with him later. In fact, they were on such good terms that Barack Obama was able to persuade Netanyahu to apologize personally to Turkish Prime Minister Rekap Erdogan for a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed 8 Turkish (and one Turkish-American) civilians. The apology was enough for Israel and Turkey to "fully restore" their tarnished diplomatic relationships.
Barack Obama shied away from his condemnation of the West Bank settlements, he didn't reconsider his black-and-white no negotiation policy with Hamas, he made little mention of the colossal crisis happening a stones-throw away in Syria (although he's expected to do so in Jordan), and he didn't spend enough time at Palestinian sites on his tourist ventures.
But, if you're like me—consistently disappointed—you will be pleased that he was ballsy enough to openly push for a two-state solution, and crafty enough to help make Turkey and Israel friends again. I'll take what I can get.