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Obama and The Middle East Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
June 9, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama's dramatic expression of support for Israel's belief that Jerusalem must be her undivided capital boomeranged within less than 24 hours when his advisers reportedly qualified that the city's status is under negotiation.

The presumptive Democratic party candidate for the presidency may not have realized when he called for preservation of the status quo at AIPAC' recent conclave in Washington, DC, that he not only would take flak from the Palestinian Authority and the rest of the Arab world, but also from the Israeli left wing.

Even before his staff modified Obama's stand, editorialists in the Arab world's press condemned him as a heretic who deserves to die while the leading Israeli exponent of concessions to the Palestinians, Uri Avnery, advised foreign correspondents here that there will be no peace unless Jerusalem's Arab quarters are transferred to the projected Palestinian state's capital.

To that extent, the charismatic and dynamic presidential contender got off to a bad start in the delineation of his foreign policy program. It did not have to turn out that way if only because he visited Israel two and a half years ago and toured several other countries in the Middle East.  This enabled him to view the situation in this part of the world first-hand.  His itinerary included several days in Jerusalem as well as a stop in a Christian-Arab village near the Lebanese border.

His pilgrimage to the stark Yad Vashem memorial to the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust gave me an opportunity to interview him there.  He emerged visibly shaken by the photographs and documents displayed in the institute's museum and said that the they demonstrate the horrors to which prejudice and discrimination can lead.

Surprisingly, though, he did not mention the Jews specifically as the people whose annihilation was Nazism's principal goal.  Obama's trip attracted little attention in the local news media.  Nor did it prompt any other foreign correspondent to get through to him.

This was not surprising, however.  Then-Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had taken over the helm of government a few days before the senator's arrival, may not have been in the proper state of mind to chat with him.  Like most other Israelis at the time Olmert still was stunned by the stroke that incapacitated his popular predecessor, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Even so, official sources confirm that Israeli leaders generally are reluctant to play host to guests from the U.S. who represent the political party that is out of office for fear that this might not go over well with the incumbents in Washington. There are several precedents that bear this out.

Most recently, Prime Minister Olmert did not see fit to invite President Jimmy Carter to his office or residence because of the former chief executive's contacts with the Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and the Hamas leadership in Syria. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had presidential ambitions that he tried to buttress by seeking peace in the Middle East 22 years ago, was shunned by the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin. President George W. Bush's participation (in his previous capacity as governor of Texas) in a fact-finding mission along with the governors of several other states during Bill Clinton's presidency also was ignored by the prime minister's office. Sen. Obama's intention to "reach out" to foreign heads of state who are hostile to
the U.S., notably Iran, also is a subject of debate in Israel.

Those who agree with him cite the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's statement that "one makes peace with one's enemies."  On the other hand, today most Israelis believe that it makes no sense to
accommodate, placate or appease Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad who has called for and
predicted Israel's destruction.

However, there is a sizable faction backed up by influential commentators in the mass media who contend that Israel's leaders should negotiate directly with the militant Islamic Hamas in an effort to stop its missile, mortar and rocket attacks on the cities, towns and villages near the Gaza Strip.  This still contradicts the prevailing view that it makes no sense to talk to states or organizations which refuse to recognize Israel because to do so is to accept them as legitimate interlocutors.
 
 

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MGI News is the sole U.S. incorporated news and programming organization specializing in the Middle East directed by Jay Bushinsky, founding Bureau Chief of CNN Jerusalem. Topics from President Barak Obama, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Hizbollah and more...

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