Claude Salhani
The Middle East Times
January 23, 2009 - 1:00am

Just two days after his inauguration U.S. President Barack Obama began to move forward on his electoral promise to work on the Middle East issues.

Obama's first telephone call as president of the United States was to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Obama assured of his administration's interest in finding a lasting and just solution to the Middle East crisis.

Accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the president paid a visit to the State Department Thursday where he appointed two high-caliber envoys to the Middle East and to Afghanistan/Pakistan – two of the world's hot spots.

The appointment of a special envoy to the Middle East, in fact was one of the suggestions made by this correspondent in an article written for the Washington Times on Jan. 4, titled "Jump-starting the Middle East peace process."

The article stated that with rising tensions in the region, Obama will not have the luxury of time when he moves into the White House. It goes on to say: "As the Middle East will require much attention and energy - something no president can afford given that time is one of his most precious assets - Mr. Obama will need to appoint a special envoy who can devote the attention due to the issues at hand, but at the same time someone with good standing in the region and enough clout with the parties concerned."

At a special ceremony held at the U.S. State Department in Washington, Obama appointed George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Pakistan/Afghanistan.

Outstanding choices in both cases. Mitchell has a proven track record as a peacemaker in Northern Ireland, where he brokered a peace treaty between the Irish Republican Army and the Protestants. Mitchell knows the Middle East well, having traveled to the region many times. Additionally, he has historic ties to the region (his mother is Lebanese and his father Irish), and he is highly respected by both sides. He will take up his new position with the full backing of the president and the secretary of state.

Richard Holbrooke was involved in the peace talks in the former Yugoslavia and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Addressing the leaders of the Middle East, Obama made a point of telling Hamas that the firing of rockets on southern Israel was intolerable. But at the same time he underlined the fact that so was the suffering of the Palestinian people.

In his inaugural address, Obama said the United States was extending a "hand of opportunity to those who seek peace."

The president stressed that the borders with Gaza have to be reopened. "Lasting peace," he said, "requires more than a lasting cease-fire."

Obama urged the Arab states to act. Indeed, much of the onus now falls on the Arab countries to support Obama's initiative to jump-start the comatose Middle East peace process.

The rebirth of the peace process offers the Arabs and the Israelis one final opportunity to try and resolve this conflict that has been going on for more than 60 years.

George Mitchell, although he will travel to the region as the special representative of the president of the United States, can only be as successful as the Arabs and the Israelis want him to be.

One thing is certain, and that is the determination of Obama to settle the issue; and given that determination, it would not bode well to get on the wrong side of this president.


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