Good moves of Barack Obama
A series of unexpectedly swift moves to begin addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict taken by Barack Obama in the week since he was sworn in as the president of the United States is being hailed by many regional specialists here who were deeply frustrated by George W Bush’s relative indifference and virtually unconditional support for Israel.
“The speed with which he has engaged on this is really stunning,” said Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab public opinion at the University of Maryland. “While it’s too early to tell whether he’s prepared to make the difficult policy trade-offs, I’d have to say that he’s off to a fantastic start.”
During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly promised to begin working for Israeli-Palestinian peace “from day one” of his tenure and criticized his predecessor for waiting until his last year in office to launch the so-called “Annapolis process” which failed to make any tangible progress toward resolving the critical “final status” issues.
Within 24 hours of his inauguration, he had telephoned the leaders of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, apparently to reiterate that commitment, and, one day later, announced the appointment of George Mitchell, who mediated the 1995 Good Friday accord that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, as his special envoy on Israel-Arab negotiations.
By Tuesday, Mitchell had arrived in Cairo for a “listening” tour of the region that will include visits with those same leaders, as well as a stop in Saudi Arabia, whose strong support for the revival of the 2002 Arab League peace initiative is considered vital for progress.
Meanwhile, Obama gave his first television interview as president – even before the major US networks – to the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya company on Monday in which he re-iterated his commitment to work on Israeli-Palestinian peace as a priority, praised the Arab League plan, and offered a “new partnership” with the Arab and the Muslim world “based on mutual respect and mutual interest”.