Francis Matthew
Gulf News (Editorial)
December 4, 2008 - 1:00am

The Arab world has reacted badly to the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Barack Obama's Secretary of State. But it would be a mistake to write her off before she has even started.

Many Arabs have pointed to her record of seeking the Jewish vote in New York elections, her statement during the Democratic primaries that Occupied Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Israel (which is illegal as the US has not recognised Occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital), and her strong resistance in the US Senate to Dubai-based DP World operating American ports after it bought international port manager, P&O.

All this is true and should not be forgotten, but it is not worth dismissing Clinton immediately for two reasons. Firstly, she is going to get the job, and she will be responsible for American foreign policy, and the Arab world will have to work with her. Therefore, it is obvious that any Arab leader or diplomat meeting her will need to engage personally, and that would be much easier if done with goodwill.

Secondly, she is a very successful political operator, and very pragmatic in how she has adapted to her various roles. Her personal transformation as she successfully eased into her role in the US Senate shows how she can make things work to her advantage. She arrived as a total outsider from the White House, and she will leave having gained the respect of the very clubby and anti-women Senate.

It is possible that as a successful political operator, Clinton could take on the Middle East as a challenge that she wants to solve. If she feels that there is a chance of finding a solution, and if she agrees that peace in Palestine should be a high priority for the Obama administration, then she would be a formidable political force. If she did adopt Middle East peace as a priority, she would be doing this for several reasons, including a recognition of the importance of the issue in its own right and which cannot be ignored that Obama thinks it is important (although his campaign literature did not say that), and maybe in order to build her own personal reputation as the Secretary of State who solved the problem which has baffled so many.

To help Cinton find her way, it is important for the Arab world to make sure that the Arab Peace Initiative is at the top of her in-tray. This plan is still the only real way that peace will be found in Palestine, since it recognises Israel's right to security and recognised borders, and it offers Israel open access to all Arab states. In return, Israel will have to recognise the sovereign state of Palestine as defined by the 1967 borders. The plan was proposed by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and adopted by all the Arab states in the 2002 Beirut summit.

Prove good intentions

A quick way that the incoming Obama administration, and Clinton, could prove their good intentions to the Arab world, would be if the US government abolished the use of torture, closed Guantanamo, and forced the CIA and US armed forces to stop defiling their prisoners. The Red Cross should have access to all prisoners, and the ludicrous legal game of taking prisoners to third countries which allow torture should stop. Instead, prisoners should go through an open trial, subject to the normal process of justice, and if found guilty, should be imprisoned. If not, then they should go free.

During the whole sorry history of the Iraq occupation, nothing did more damage to the reputation of the US and its military than the despicable actions of its troops in Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqi prisoners were sexually abused and tortured. These actions were recorded in pictures which were circulated among the personnel who obviously enjoyed what they were doing. But the incoming Obama administration may well prove equally to the task of meeting most of the world's over-blown expectations. Clinton is joining an administration which is going to be a very effective group. They are not a disparate collection of visionaries. They carry a lot of experience and know how to get things done. Besides, they share a single vision of how they see the world, in contrast to the sharp divisions in George W. Bush's administration.

The most obvious advantage they have is that they are led by Obama, one of America's best presidential candidates for decades. The appointment of Timothy Geithner from the New York Federal Reserve as Treasury Secretary, and Governor Bill Richardson to Commerce Secretary gives the administration a tough and seasoned economic team. The main priority for most of 2009 will be how to get out of recession.

Looking overseas, the continuation of Robert Gates in his position as Defence Secretary avoids any muddle for the US military as they continue in action. Gates has also made clear that he is willing to support Obama in accelerating the US withdrawal from Iraq. He will also have to work closely with Clinton and together they will reshape US actions in the Middle East.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017