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Obama Needs to be More Than Israel's Champion in Middle East

Arab Writers Group Syndicate, Commentary, Ray Hanania Posted: Jul 25, 2008

Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama did all the "right"
things during his tour of the Middle East. It will help better define him in
the eyes of Americans as "presidential material" and brush aside any
concerns about whether he can or can't be a commander in chief. He can.

But doing the "right things" might not be enough to actually achieve Middle
East peace. Obama needs to do more. He's capable of it.

During his tour of Israel and Palestine, for example, his schedule played
into American domestic politics, reinforcing the belief that Obama will meet
all the requirements of an American President, a solid supporter of Israel.

He went right down the checklist of things he needs to do as a candidate:
Obama met with Israel's leaders and vowed continued, unwavering support for
Israel's security.

He visited the Yad Vashem to show respect for the Holocaust survivors and
placed a wreath there in presidential fashion. He didn't make any outrageous
promises that he would have to "explain" or "clarify" on returning to the
United States, as he did when he appeared before AIPAC, Israel's powerful
lobbying organization, and said Jerusalem would be its undivided capitol and
later, having to explain he meant "through negotiations."

He made the "empathy" visit with residents of Sdereot, the Israeli town
targeted in Hamas Qassam missile strikes. He even went so far as to hammer
Iran, offering tough-talk to minimize criticism of his "willing to talk to
every nation" position which is the right thing to do, but becomes fodder
for his critics.

On the other side, he did all the things that most American presidents are
required to do during presidential elections. He minimized contact with the
Palestinians, making no promises beyond supporting the vague notion of "a
Palestinian State."

He could have visited Palestinian hotspots where the Wall imprisons whole
towns, like Qalqaliya, or standing at Shepherd's Field near the Church of
the Nativity in Bethlehem where Israeli settler growth is consuming
Palestinian West Bank land.

It will help him secure the presidential nomination, but it won't do much to
achieve peace. Palestinians can only hope that below the surface of "going
through the right motions," Obama will push for a resolution of the conflict
that in fact does achieve a Palestinian State.

What Obama needs to do as a president requires more courage. One way is to
define clear a "vision for peace" that not only reinforces the American
commitments to Israel's survival in a changing Middle East but that also
shows more compassion for Palestinian rights. He needs to help take the
American commitment to a Palestinian State and sow how he believes it can be
a reality.

In the end, Israelis and Palestinians already know what the final peace
accord looks like. They've seen it off-and-on. It was defined realistically
at Taba after the Camp David Accords collapses in 2000. Even the touchy
issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees can be resolved, with
honesty on all sides. Most Palestinian refugees have said they will accept
compensation as an alternative to returning to their lands and homes in
Israel taken from them before the 1948 war, 60 years ago.

Until a Palestinian state is created, Israelis and Palestinians will remain
at each other's throats and allow opportunities for extremist violence on
both sides, like the recent attack this week in Jerusalem by an Arab Israeli
construction worker, will continue.

For Obama and the future of Palestinian-Israeli peace, leadership will be
defined by stepping past not through the difficult rhetoric that draws out
the emotions of both sides, and by standing firmly in the a vision of what
peace can be that both sides already embrace.

That is clearly something Obama can do once he becomes president.

Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. He can be reached at
www.TheMediaOasis.com or by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.

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