What does the Obama Administration need to do, not only to repair the ragged rips and tears in US-Muslim relationships but to weave a whole new fabric of cooperation?
Three steps: Repairing relations and affirming the legitimacy of Islam in America, by visiting some major Muslim venues; Repairing the bloody wounds of the Gaza-Israel relationship; and making a broad Middle East peace among Israel, Palestine, all the Arab states, Iran and the USA itself.
First, the President needs to speak in several American Muslim venues, to repair his own failure to do so during the campaign. These might include speaking at the annual conference of 30,000 or more Muslims sponsored each year by the Islamic Society of North America; at the Al Aqsa mosque in Philadelphia, a leading participant in the annual Interfaith Walk for Peace that has over the years brought thousands of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs to join in celebratory walks from church to mosque to synagogue; and at the Brotherhood of Islam Mosque in Harlem or the mosque formerly led by the late Imam W.D. Mohammed in Chicago, both of which are leaders in the authentically Muslim African-American community.
Secondly, the President cannot heal relationships with Islam as a whole without taking steps to heal the relationships between the US and the Arab-speaking part of the Muslim world. The Obama Administration could start by insisting that the Israeli and Egyptian governments open the borders and ports of Gaza to all commercial shipments of civilian goods, while taking every step imaginable to prevent the import of any weapons into Gaza. At the same time, it could undertake an investigation of whether Israel violated US law by using US-supplied white phosphorus against the civilian population of Gaza – or could perhaps (less confrontational but just as effective) just quietly stop supplying white phosphorus to Israel.
Third, the United States should unequivocally call on all states in the Middle East to take part in a peace conference aimed at accomplishing the following results: Formal peace treaties and full peaceful relations between Israel and every Arab state, plus Iran. Acceptance by Israel and all Arab states of a new and viable Palestinian state under a freely elected government of national unity, accepting borders very close to the 1967 Green Line with small mutually agreed-on adjustments (including Israeli control of the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem); and with full acceptance of a peace treaty with Israel. If this Palestinian government includes elements of Hamas, so be it.
Palestinian refugees return to the new Palestinian state, with compensation from the international community for their years of exile, with a small number of actual living refugees who lived in Israel before 1948 welcomed back to Israel.
Simultaneously connecting the end of the US military presence in Iraq with serious diplomacy with Iran and a political settlement of the Afghan agony and with moving swiftly off the fossil fuel addiction that both drives a planetary disaster and drives American policy into corruption or conquest in the Middle Eastern oil pools.
Only the biggest response can meet the need. Half-measures, the normal response of governments facing complex conflict, will not work.
Either at a key strategic moment in these talks or at their victorious conclusion, the President could take the transformative step of going to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and in the Dome of the Rock.
And what might make such a break with previous US policy possible? The presidency of an unusual person chanting “change” is not enough. There are only two clusters of power in the US with enough passion about the Middle East to matter. One is Big Oil. The other is the potential ethnic and religious passion of American Christians, Jews, and Muslims. If sizable parts (not the whole) of these three religious groups could work together for such a policy, it might become achievable.
For many Jews and Muslims, that is even harder now than it was a month ago. But for others, the shock of so much blood on the sands of Gaza has already brought about unexpected alliances — and could make it possible to give the new Administration a political base in which to move toward a grand peace.
If such an Abrahamic Grand Alliance came together within the US in support of an Abrahamic peace in the broader Middle East, the means would point directly toward the ends; the present would embody the future. The building blocks for such an Abrahamic Grand Alliance now exist . Can they be mortared together?