Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Perhaps a day late and a dollar short

On Tuesday, Obama did an interview with Arab television. You can read about it, and get links to video clips, here. Here’s part of what Obama said:

In an interview broadcast Tuesday on one of the Middle East’s major news channels, President Obama struck a conciliatory tone toward the Islamic world, saying he wanted to persuade Muslims that “the Americans are not your enemy.”He also said the moment was ripe for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Well, according to Bob Simon and many of the Israelis and Palestinians he interviewed for 60 Minutes on Sunday, the time is overripe. Rotted. History has passed peace by.

Obama went on to say this:

In discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Obama told Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya's Washington bureau chief, that "the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away." He said he told Mr. Mitchell to "start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating."

"Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them," Mr. Obama said. "They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that, instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."

Frankly, the “we cannot tell the either Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them” stuff sounds chillingly Bush administration-like to Spot. We’ll bring a table — at least he offered that — but the parties will have to work this out themselves. When we give one side three billion dollars a year or so in armaments, how well do you suppose that’s gonna work?

Obama does seem to “get it” about the conflict being a key to peace in the whole region:

But he also said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be seen in isolation. “I do think it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Obama said.

Apparently, we can invade Afghanistan and Iraq and fire rockets into Pakistan in the name of national security, but we can’t even make suggestions to Israel when it would bring national security returns that are orders of magnitude greater than anything we’ve accomplished in the region in the last eight years. And we certainly cannot tell it to dismantle its illegal colonies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem; heaven forefend!

There was hope, mixed with skepticism, in Arab reaction:

There was also [in addition to hope about Obama’s remarks], however, a reluctance to judge Mr. Obama on his words alone. “Let’s see your promise, American president, for an independent Palestinian state,” said a commenter on Al Arabiya’s Web site, identified only as Alsomary. “And let’s see your promise for peace with the world, and especially the Islamic world. Then for sure we will learn to love America through your actions.”

You wonder if Obama saw the Bob Simon piece.

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