This election season, like all election seasons, the presidential candidates will inundate us with all sorts of issues they think we think are important. In North Carolina and Iowa, they’ll talk about farmers and agriculture and small businesses. In Detroit, they’ll talk about the auto industry and labor unions and factories. In Florida, they’ll talk about Medicare and retirement benefits and social security. Top that off with a heaping dose of rhetoric on education, unemployment, spending, saving, government cuts, women, housing, gay rights, veterans, foreign policy, and Big Bird, and one is likely to become nauseated by the sheer plethora of topics that will be amplified before November 6.
There is one issue, though, that won’t be discussed, and that’s Middle East peace. Sure, we always hear lofty, general statements about the need for meaningful solutions and the necessity of the Palestinians and Israelis to put their political differences aside and agree to find a peaceful path forward. Anyone can open their mouth and utter something half-intelligent about the two-state solution. But how about some real ideas, for crying out loud? And even if there aren’t any real ideas—a strong possibility given the sensitive nature of the topic and its track record within the American presidency—doesn’t it at least deserve a mention?
In Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech, Israel was mentioned a grand total of two times. Think that’s a low number? Not when you compare it to the number of mentions he gave Palestine: zero. How can any presidential candidate not mention Middle East peace in a major speech outlining his foreign policy views? Sure, Romney did visit Israel in July of this year, but his trip, which was unquestionably a photo op, was marred by his unintelligent remark that “cultural differences”—not years of Israeli domination—are the reason Israelis are more economically successful.
Truth be told, President Obama’s record isn’t all that great either. His first four years in office have been spent cuddling up next to Benjamin Netanyahu, and though he tried brokering a few rounds of direct talks, those stalled when Israel showed up the American government by renewing its moratorium on the expansion of West Bank settlements. In the general election square off with Romney, the president has been nothing short of mum on the issue.
There are a few reasons for the silence. Sadly enough, the American electorate just isn’t all that connected to the issue. Ask the ordinary Joe to locate Israel on a map, and the changes that he’d succeed are questionable. Ask him to locate Palestine, and watch as he squirms even more. Ask him to explain the details of this decades-long conflict, and a blank stare begins to emerge.
At the end of the day, elections are won on bread and butter issues, and while it may be a hard pill to swallow for those attuned to the happenings of that region, reaching that golden electoral number of 271 doesn’t involve much Israel-Palestine talk.
The second reason nobody’s talking about Middle East peace is because it’s hard. Why offer a meaningful solution that addresses specific political grievances when you can simply whitewash the conflict by saying something warm and fuzzy about “peace” and “hope” and “change” and “love.” News flash: Kumbaya politics isn’t about solving problems.
The sad reality in all of this is that the one topic that everyone seems to avoid is the very topic that’s at the center of all other Middle East issues. Want to curb terrorism? Address Middle East peace. Want to end the escalating cold war between Israel and Iran? Address Middle East peace. Want to build more stability in a region that’s been rocked by revolutions and plagued by American-weary regimes? Address Middle East peace.
A large part of addressing Middle East peace means talking about it—something both of these presidential campaigns just can’t seem to do.
Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of AslanMedia.com and the author of the new book, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims.
This is sixth in a series of essays provoking a conversation around the invisible issues of Election 2012—those crucial topics that hide in plain sight as the two candidates square off during the presidential debates this month.