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Obama Signals 'Not Business as Usual' to Israel

Eye on the Middle East

New America Media, News Analysis, Jalal Ghazi Posted: Apr 24, 2009

Editors Note: There has been no change in official U.S. policy towards Israel and Palestine. But Arab media are seeing signals that President Barack Obama is serious about being an honest broker in the peace process. Jalal Ghazi writes the Eye on the Middle East for NAM.

Arab media typically suggests that no American president can ever be an honest broker when it comes to Israel and Palestine. They believe the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is too strong and the U.S. policy is completely biased towards Israel.

That stance is starting to shift in the media.

The first sign was President Barack Obama giving an interview to Al Arabia Television right after he came to office in January. Now after his speech in Turkey and his meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the White House, Arab media are suggesting that Obama is going to play a more balanced role as mediator between Israelis and Palestinians than his predecessor.

It is important to note the U.S. position has not really changed. The two-state solution also was part of the Bush administrations Middle East policy.

What is new, said Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst with Al Jazeera English is that the Obama administration considers reconciliation and peace part of its national security. Under the Bush administration, conflict and war on terror were part of its national security.

Resuming the peace process in the Middle East would help redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. It would also allow him to continue the diplomatic process with Muslim countries, especially Syria and Iran.

However Obamas vision for the Middle East is on a collision course with that of the Israeli right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There is a completely radical government that Israel has not seen in the last sixty years, said Bishara. Its radical position towards the Palestinians, Arabs and the peace process makes it hard for Washington to reconcile what the Obama Administration views as American national security with what those in Israel today view as Israels national security.

Dan Diker, senior political analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, also predicted looming differences between Americans and Israelis. He told Israeli Broadcast Authority television (IBA), I do think we [the Israelis] are probably headed for some tensions with the U.S. because Israel and the U.S. see the Palestinian issue in different context in respect to Iran.

For example, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell wants the Palestinian issue addressed immediately in order to take away the Palestinian card from Iran. Israel is saying the opposite, said Diker. We cant address the Palestinian issue until we have removed or isolated Iran, because it is destabilizing the very Palestinian areas that Israel is trying in some way to come to a peace process with.

Netanyahu is pushing for an economic peace rather than the two-state solution. He suggests Israel would take specific measures to improve the economic conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank if the Palestinian Authority fulfills specific Israeli security demands.

Arabs and Palestinians completely reject Netanyahus economic peace. King Abdullah II who this week met with Obama made that clear on behalf of the Arab League. The League members are willing to make peace with Israel if it withdraws from Palestinian lands occupied after 1967.

Obama strongly supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. George Mitchell said that establishing a Palestinian state is of national interest of the U.S. thus highlighting a big policy difference between the U.S. and Israel.

Abd Al-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, told Arab News Broadcast, Obama has fundamental problems with Israel not with the Arabs.

Atwan believes that Obama wants to move the peace process forward because he feels that the situation may explode at any moment. He said, new missiles may land in Tell Aviv, Israel may invade Gaza again, and other problems may rise in Lebanon. Atwan said that Obama would not tolerate Netanyahus rejection to the two-state solution.

He is already signaling his displeasure, according to the media. Former U.S. diplomat Hillary Mann Leverett told Al Jazeera English, During the eight years of the Bush administration and even during the eight years of the Clinton administration where I served, Israeli presidents and prime ministers would be able to come whenever they want with even just a phone call notice. But according to the Israeli Radio Station(IDF Radio), Netanyahu had to cancel his appearance before AIPAC after learning that Obama would not be able to meet with him during the conference.

Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East studies at Sarah Lawrence College, told the Tehran-based Press TV that there are reports that the Obama Administration is preparing congressional leaders by making the case for a two- state solution.

He explained that the president needs to explain to the American public that having two states will serve American and Israeli national interests, not only Palestinian and Arab interests.

Obama has assigned his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who has dual citizenship with Israel and has served in the Israeli Army, with this sensitive mission. Dov Waxmen, a professor at Baruch Collage told Press TV, There are recent reports that Rahm Emanuel has been speaking to people in Congress, making the case [for the two-state solution].

There is one other important harbinger of change on the ground.

Al Jazeera English reported that U.S. officials were personally sent by George Mitchell to talk with Palestinian families who received eviction notices from the Israeli government. Arab media suspect Israeli officials are trying to confiscate Arab homes near the old city of Jerusalem as a way of stripping East Jerusalem of its Arab residents to ensure it does not become the capital of a Palestinian state. Although American officials declined to comment, Al Jazeera reported the U.S. State Department officials might, in fact, be the only hope that these Palestinian families have to stay in their homes.

Although no concrete results have yet been achieved pertaining to the Middle East peace process, it seems, according to Arab media, that under Obama it will not be business as usual when it comes to Israel.

Related Articles:

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