Arab News (Editorial)
September 4, 2009 - 12:00am§ion=0&article=126063&d=4&m=9&y=2009

It was not just among Americans that Barack Obama raised great expectations when he won last year’s US presidential elections. In this part of the world, people believed that he would solve the Palestinian issue. Repeated signs from him that restarting and solving the Middle East peace process was a foreign policy priority reinforced that view. As a result, Arab and Muslim attitudes toward the US softened.

Now, however, people are beginning to lose confidence. Despite talks with Arab leaders, despite Obama’s Cairo speech about re-engagement with the world of Islam, they see the peace process once again bogged down, this time on the issue of settlements. They recognize that immediate responsibility lies with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu who, by refusing Washington’s demands that settlement expansion stop, has cunningly shunted the process into a siding — exactly where he wants it. But they also see, in the face of such calculated obduracy, Obama’s unwillingness to stand up to the Israelis. There are not threats, no warnings of a boycott, nothing to show that Washington is serious about a settlement.

Compare this to the Washington’s spat with Switzerland, which is, after all, also supposed to be an ally and friend.

In order to find out if some Americans were cheating the taxman, Washington demanded the Swiss divulge details on US citizens with Swiss bank accounts. When the Swiss said it went against their banking secrecy laws, Washington threatened sanctions. Faced with that, the Swiss capitulated: Washington will get the bank details.

Why no similar action against Israel over the settlements? Yet again, it is one rule for Israel, another for everyone else.

Arab faith in Obama is beginning to wear thin as a result. That is dangerous. Expectations dashed can too easily turn into fury — and that would play straight into the hands of the terrorists and America’s enemies. Having let everyone believe that he was different to previous presidents and that he would bring peace to the Middle East, Obama has to deliver.

Washington thinks that it has to sort out all the details before a settlement can be finalized. There lies the problem. There will never be peace if all the details have to be sorted out first.

Obama can sever the Gordian knot by simply saying that on a certain date, the US will recognize Palestine. That will concentrate minds wonderfully, especially Israeli minds. And if Palestine borders have not been fully agreed with the Israelis by that date, so what? Everyone knows that Arab peace plan, endorsed by the Arab League, offers full recognition to Israel in return for returning to pre-1967 borders.

In any case, there are plenty of independent countries with border problems or someone sitting on part of their territory — Cyprus, Georgia and Azerbaijan to name but three. Moreover, recognition is not the end of the process; it is merely the start of a new chapter.

Next week Obama gets down to work again after the summer break. Palestine has to be a priority. He has to take a high-profile step that shows he is determined to make peace happen and that he is not going to be stopped by Netanyahu’s machinations. Simply announcing a resumption of the peace process will not be enough. It has been resumed so many times before to no effect. Without a bold and imaginative step, Arab and Muslim trust in Obama will wither.


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