The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily
Wednesday 10 December 2008 (12 Dhul Hijjah 1429)
Editorial: Mideast hopes on Obama
10 December 2008 —
It is too early to start judging US President-elect Barack Obama and his policies when he has not even been sworn into office. But it is not too early to start worrying about what he may or may not do, particularly when it comes to the Middle East.
His appointment of a number of dyed-in-the-wool Zionists to crucial positions in the incoming administration, not least Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, has already caused considerable concern. A sense of foreboding that his administration may yet turn out to be as pro-Israeli as Bush's, if not more, is unlikely to be diminished by the appointment as his national security adviser of Gen. James Jones. He is the man who two months ago said nothing is "more important" to security in the Middle East than a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and who, in a report to Condoleezza Rice in August, was highly critical of Israeli policies in the occupied territories (a report that the White House chose not to publish). What about his choice of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state?
Despite earlier stories of sympathy for the Palestinians, she has been a stern critic of them since becoming a senator for New York. It has won her strong support among Israelis; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gushed enthusiasm at her appointment as secretary of state, calling her a long-term friend of Israel who would continue to advance the two country's special relationship. Is there any reason to doubt him?
Some may see her as someone of few fixed principles whose hostility to the Palestinians will vanish now that she is saying goodbye to her senatorial seat in New York. Only time will tell. For the moment, however, there are other, more immediate reasons to be worried about the new administration's policies on the Middle East. One is Obama's interview on Sunday for NBC's "Meet the Press". It is not that he declared an abiding support for Israel or antipathy to the Palestinians. The problem is that he did not mention the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at all. That might have been understandable if the interview was about the economy or the transition of power. It was. But it was also about foreign policy. The only reference to the subject was in reply to a question on Iran, in which he, echoing the Bush White House, called Hamas (and Hezbollah) terrorists and condemned the Iranians "threats" against Israel.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute does not appear to be on his agenda. That is all the more worrying because he will enter the White House just 20 days before the Israeli elections — elections that are likely to result in the most hard-line Israeli government in memory. Polls indicate that Likud will sweep to power. Not only is it led by Benjamin Netanyahu, as uncompromising as ever, it is now dominated by hawks. Only yesterday they won the party's primary contest to stand as its candidates for Parliament. If the US president-elect thinks that the Middle East can wait till he takes office, he is mistaken. Netanyahu had already made it clear that Palestinian sovereignty and discussions about territory are not going to happen while he is prime minister. Any plans that the Obama team may have to launch a Middle East peace initiative require it send out unmistakable signals to the Israeli electorate now, before the Israeli election, that Likud's policies are going to result in a clash with the US, that an Obama administration will respond negatively to an intransigent Israel.
It is this lack of any sign, not just of a change in direction but any sign at all regarding the Middle East, that is so worrying and so perplexing. No change means things will get worse. The Middle East will fester and, in festering, become more dangerous — for itself and for the world. Hope dashed, and there has been so much hope in Obama in the Middle East, can be far more deadly than continuing resentment.
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