IT STARTED from the first moment. The President of the United States came to Ramallah. He visited the Mukata'a, the "compound" which serves as the office of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
One cannot enter the Mukata'a without noticing the grave of Yasser Arafat, just a few paces from the entrance.
It is quite impossible to ignore this landmark while passing it. However, Obama succeeded in doing just that.
It was like spitting in the face of the entire Palestinian people. Imagine a foreign dignitary coming to France and not laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Or coming to Israel and not visiting Yad Vashem. It is more than insulting. It is stupid.
Yasser Arafat is for the Palestinians what George Washington is for Americans, Mahatma Gandhi for Indians, David Ben-Gurion for Israelis. The Father of the Nation. Even his domestic opponents on the left and on the right revere his memory. He is the supreme symbol of the modern Palestinian national movement. His picture hangs in every Palestinian office and school.
So why not honor him? Why not lay a wreath on his grave, as foreign leaders have done before?
Because Arafat has been demonized and vilified in Israel like no other human being since Hitler. And still is.
Obama was simply afraid of the Israeli reaction. After his huge success in Israel, he feared that such a gesture would undo the effect of his address to the Israeli people.
THIS CONSIDERATION guided Obama throughout his short visit to the West Bank. His feet were in Palestine, his head was in Israel.
He walked in Palestine. He talked to Palestine. But his thoughts were about the Israelis.
Even when he said good things, his tone was wrong. He just could not hit the right note. Somehow he missed the cue.
Why? Because of a complete lack of empathy.
Empathy is something hard to define. I am spoiled in this respect, because I had the good fortune to live for many years near a person who had it in abundance. Rachel, my wife, hit the right tone with everyone, high or low, local or foreign, the old and the very young.
Obama did so in Israel. It was really amazing. He must have studied us thoroughly. He knew our strengths and our weaknesses, our paranoias and our idiosyncrasies, our historical memories and dreams about the future.
And no wonder. He is surrounded by Zionist Jews. They are his closest advisors, his friends and his experts on the Middle East. Even from mere contact with them, he obviously absorbed much of our sensitivities.