This article originally appeared on the New York Times' Room for Debate on 18 May 2011. 

If ever there were a moment in the Middle East for a president to ignore the beltway circuit of policy advisers who have misled countless administrations, this is it.

The real question is not whether President Obama needs another envoy to the Middle East. It is whether the United States can afford to continue to fiddle in the face of a Middle East that is on fire.

A more democratic Arab world, should that be the outcome of the revolutionary events of the past five months, will be far less tolerant of U.S. acquiescence in a fifth decade of illegal Israeli occupation and a seventh of Palestinian dispossession.

After 20 years of failed U.S.-sponsored negotiations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more intractable than it was when the Madrid Peace Conference took place. Such endless negotiations without issue sufficed to silence autocratic Arab regimes unconcerned about the opinions of their peoples: they will not fool more democratic governments, nor the millions of young people around the region emboldened by the taste of freedom. If the U.S. refuses to act to resolve this conflict, and continues to coddle Israel, which everywhere (outside the echo chamber of domestic U.S. politics) is seen as obstructing a resolution of the conflict, there will likely be consequences where before there were none: indeed, the quest for Middle East peace may finally be taken out of the sole purview of an irresponsible United States.

On Sunday the question of when the wave of bottom-up revolutionary youth activism would reach the Palestinians was answered in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. This is a warning to those who want to maintain the status quo of occupation and dispossession: if the United States chooses to stand against this wave, it will find itself on the wrong side of history in the Middle East. Instead, it should resolutely oppose this oppressive and untenable status quo as it crumbles before our eyes.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He is the author of "Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness."