Gabi Sheffer
Haaretz (Analysis)
February 24, 2010 - 1:00am

Most Israelis, including the heads of the defense establishment and politicians led by the prime minister and the foreign minister, categorically state that U.S. President Barack Obama will never solve the Israeli-Arab conflict. This lack of confidence in and sympathy for Obama have accompanied him, unjustifiably, since the day he began campaigning for the presidency - and has only intensified following his election. The disrespect toward him and his administration is unwarranted; there is no doubt that it is connected to Obama's ethnic background.

In view of the economic crisis that hit the United States and, in its wake, the rest of the world, the accepted wisdom is that the ability of the United States and its president to influence what happens beyond their borders has been diminished. However, that is not where things actually stand. As no other existing power holds such extensive strength and influence, Obama's ability to act in the world in general and the Middle East in particular has not been eliminated. Russia, China and the European Union have not surpassed the United States in terms of their capability.

It must be remembered that American presidents, particularly Democrats such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, achieved remarkable accomplishments - brokering peace with Egypt and Jordan - even when they did not enjoy the support of the American public or when they were in political "trouble." In other words, even if Obama encounters further difficulties during his term, he can still work toward a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

It is also incorrect to claim that Obama has stopped taking an interest in conflicts in which Israel is involved. American interest continues, proof of which can be seen in the endless visits by various U.S. representatives - the vice president, the secretary of state (who also does not have much support here in Israel), the head of the joint chiefs of staff, and senators and congressmen.

It is true that Iran has been a main focus of their discussions, but every one of these officials is also involved in, and discusses, the issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Special envoy George Mitchell remains fairly active and, as he proved in Ireland, he has a lot of staying power. At the Americans' initiative, his cooperation with Tony Blair has been stepped up - and this too could lead to steps that do not necessarily correspond with the positions of the Israeli government.

It is also true that the Iranian issue has led to massive involvement on the part of the U.S. administration; and as a result, as was justifiably said in a recent Haaretz editorial ("A friendly warning," February 16), Israel must refrain from any military action there. But there is no possibility of severing this involvement from other issues linked to the entire region - such as open shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, the security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, the situation in Lebanon, and Syrian-Turkish-Iranian ties. With respect to all these issues there is, and will be, deep significance for Israel and its relations with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

Above all, the relations between the Obama administration and the Arab states and the Palestinians are not cooling. The appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Syria as well as the Obama administration's close ties with the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, with the Egyptian president and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, should arouse the attention of the Israeli authorities who wish to freeze talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Like administrations in the past, Obama will still play a role in numerous political and economic affairs that relate to Israel. Instead of eulogizing Obama, ignoring the conflict and investing everything in the Iranian issue, Israel must immediately resume the task of solving the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict.


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