The Jordan Times (Editorial)
January 23, 2009 - 1:00am

US President Barack Obama signalled interest in finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, made more imperative after the horrors of the just-ended Israeli war on Gaza.

Obama called four Middle East leaders on his first day in office; choosing His Majesty King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as his interlocutors on the Palestinian issue, Obama may have wished to show that he is siding with the voices of moderation in the region, not with the so-called rejectionists.

It could also point to where the Obama administration stands on the Middle East.

The first concern should obviously be to consolidate the fragile ceasefire reached by Israel and Hamas. By deciding to lend support to the quest for an effective control of border crossings into Gaza, the new US president seems to concur with European countries, especially those that took part in the recent Sharm El Sheikh summit.

Yet Obama’s initial moves and contacts do not point to any dramatic shift in the US policy in the area. Not that any was expected.

Generating movement away from the stalled situation, any movement, is still better than the lack of progress prevailing for quite some time now.

The success of the US tentative change of stance vis-à-vis the Middle East depends first and foremost on whether Obama will have the will and the power to secure an enduring peace deal between Israel and its Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.

The new president has also started consultations with senior US military people on how to effect an early US troop withdrawal from Iraq. This, while important for the army morale and repeatedly demanded by most in the Middle East and beyond, will have to be carefully considered and orchestrated, nevertheless, to make sure Iraqis are not further harmed. The US cannot just raid a country, wreak havoc with it and its people’s lives and then withdraw, irresponsibly, with no thought for the fate of the people left behind.

Whatever the next moves, overall the US policy on our region remains basically steady and dictated by the same fundamentals.

So if hope is there, it should be tempered with the knowledge that any US president can do only this much. The rest is up to the main protagonists in the Middle East.


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