1. Reactions from
2. Khalid Mesha’al, Hamas leader on Obama’s speech
3. Hamas’ letter to Obama, inviting him to
4. Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor-in-chief Abdel Beri Atwan on Obama’s speech
5. Robert Fisk in The Independent
6. Ali Abunimah from Electronic Intifada
7. Sami Moubayed, Asia Times Online
REACTION FROM PALESTINIANS IN
Palestinians give guarded welcome to
for a fresh start on US-Muslim relations
Thursday 4 June 2009
In the Delice coffee shop in the heart of
customers watched the speech in silence, some paying more
attention than others. But there was not a hint of applause
even when Obama talked about the "intolerable" situation
facing the Palestinians.
Many said they welcomed his words, but wanted to see action
on the ground.
"He touched our emotions, especially when he quoted from
the Qur'an," said Ehab Qishawi, a diplomat in the foreign
haven't seen any policies on the ground. That's what we're
"We've had a lot of experience with the Americans and we
know that there are always red lines, especially when it
comes to the relationship with
Eyad Galaja, 28, felt the speech was balanced and gave "a
direct message to
Palestinians". The Israeli blockade, which for the past two
years has prevented all exports and most imports to the
overcrowded strip, is the dominating feature of life in
Galaja, who works in the health ministry helping refer
patients for treatment abroad, said: "It is easy to say the
words, many presidents have given good speeches, but the
most important thing is the actions. The first step should
be to put pressure on
open the commercial crossings and let goods come in."
Others have been more outspoken in their criticism of Obama
hearing "sugar-coated language".
"Any American gesture in the right direction is welcome,"
he said. "If the Americans want an even-handed policy we
welcome that, but actions speak louder than words. We don't
want to live in hope until we die in despair."
allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what
Abu Shark, whose family are refugees from what is now the
living together as citizens of a single, binational state.
It is an idea that is gaining ground among Palestinians but
is strongly opposed by Israelis.
He was concerned about
leaders of the Arab world. "If
democracy and then he meets with dictators it means there
is a double standard," he said. "They should stop listening
to Arab rulers and start listening to the Arab public."
Hamas Leader to Obama: Deeds, Not Words
bureau, Khaled Meshaal, gave a qualified welcome here
Thursday to the big speech that Pres. Barack Obama
addressed to the Muslim world in
"The speech was cleverly written in the way it addressed
the Muslim world... and in the way it showed respect to the
Muslim heritage," Meshaal told IPS in an exclusive
interview. "But I think it's not enough. What's needed are
deeds, actions on the ground, and a change of policies."
His remarks came just hours after the speech, in a
wide-ranging interview in one of the Hamas leader's offices
here in the Syrian capital.
In the interview, Meshaal was friendly, quietly
self-confident, and thoughtful. He was firm in describing
his movement's positions, including when he restated that
he wants Hamas to be treated as "part of the solution and
not part of the problem".
He said he would be happy to meet Sen. George Mitchell, who
is expected to arrive in
for the first time in his capacity as
"If Mitchell wants to meet me, we'll welcome him with a cup
of fine tea," Meshaal said with a smile.
This seems unlikely to happen in the near future. In the
Pres. George W. Bush and his allies in the international
"Quartet" defined in 2006 for Hamas, before any members of
the Quartet - the
Meshaal expressed his displeasure with that part of Obama's
speech, noting that in the speech Obama also said he was
ready to start talks with
the basis of mutual respect".
"Why is Obama ready to deal with
preconditions, but not us?" Meshaal asked. "Obama is using
some new words in his rhetoric, somewhat different from
what we heard from Bush, but under no circumstances will
preconditions be acceptable to us."
IPS asked Meshaal if he thought some approach like the one
Mitchell used to mediate an end to the conflict in Northern
arena. In that effort, Mitchell defined a set of principles
regarding issues like abstention from violence and
commitment to democratic resolution of differences that he
applied equally to all sides in the conflict.
Meshaal replied, "Before we get into details, if Mitchell
wants to resolve the conflict here, he should talk to
of dialogue, not of defining preconditions."
That was when he extended the invitation to Mitchell to
come and meet over a cup of tea.
IPS asked whether - and how - he judged that Hamas's
longstanding desire to be seen as part of the solution
could be meshed with Mitchell's mission.
"Yes, we want to be part of the solution, but on the basis
of Palestinian rights," he said. "We have already said
we'll work for the success of any project that ends the
occupation of 1967, restores Palestinian rights, and grants
to Palestinians our right of self-determination."
"We need two things from Obama, Mitchell, the Quartet, and
the rest of the international community. Firstly, pressure
obstacle to this is completely on the Israeli side.
Secondly, we need the international actors to refrain from
intervening in internal Palestinian affairs. You should
leave it to the Palestinians to resolve our differences
peacefully. You should respect Palestinian democracy and
its results," he said.
This latter was a reference to the hard-hitting campaign
against Hamas ever since its candidates won a strong
victory in the Palestinian Authority (PA)'s parliamentary
elections in January 2006.
That campaign has included sustained efforts to
delegitimise the Hamas-led government that emerged from the
elections, attempts by
government's leaders, including during
anti-Hamas fighting force loyal to the U.S.-supported
Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
In his reaction to Obama's speech, Meshaal referred to the
sweet words from President Obama on democratisation, we'd
rather see the
of democratic elections that have already been held. And
rather than talk about democratisation and human rights in
the Arab world, we'd rather see the removal of Gen. Dayton,
who's building a police state there in the
On Thursday, the tensions between Hamas and forces loyal to
the Ramallah-based Fatah Party leadership boiled over into
outright fighting in the West Bank town of
left two Hamas fighters and one pro-Ramallah security
The deep divisions between Hamas and Fatah have also been
seen by many as a major obstacle to lifting
extremely damaging siege of
open the crossing points into
Meshaal told IPS, "We're eager for the reconciliation with
Fatah. It's both a political and a humanitarian necessity.
But success is unlikely because of outside intervention."
Attempts to effect a reconciliation have been sporadically
success. IPS asked Meshaal if he thought
unsuccessful as a mediator. "
said. "The problem is not the mediator, but the outside
He also said that the continuing differences between Hamas
and Fatah should not be seen as posing an immoveable
obstacle to lifting the
international community really wanted the
it could find ways to do this.
controls its coastline. It also has a short land-border
IPS pressed Meshaal on an issue of great concern to some
Israelis: whether, when he talks about "an end to Israeli
occupation" he is referring to
West Bank and
Israeli state in 1948 in what had previously been the area
He replied, "I have said I accept a Palestinian state if
the historical fact of the Israeli occupation of 1948, but
Hamas and the other factions have all accepted this
solution of a Palestinian state at the 1967 line. But
there's still no Israeli acceptance of this, and no
international recognition of this outcome."
Asked whether the establishment of a Palestinian state in
just the areas occupied in 1967 would secure the end of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he responded, "That state is
our demand today. When our people are free and have their
own state they will decide on this position."
In a discussion on the right of the numerous Palestinian
refugees from 1948, and their descendants, to return to
their ancestral homes and lands in what is now
defined this as meaning that these refugees still have the
right to return to their "home villages or towns".
Hamas is often portrayed in the west as politically
inflexible, but on some key issues it has acted in a
realistic way that demonstrates its leadership's ability to
adapt its positions to changing realities on the ground.
One of these shifts was its move toward accepting the
concept of a Palestinian state in just the
participate in the PA's parliamentary elections, though a
decade earlier it had opposed such participation.
Meshaal explained this latter shift by saying, "In 1996,
when we opposed the elections it was because they were seen
as derived from the Oslo Agreement, which we opposed. But
become a real burden on the Palestinian people, with all
its corruption. The Palestinian people wanted Hamas to
enter the PA's institutions, to lift this burden from them,
and we had to be responsive to that."
In his reaction to Obama's speech, Meshaal welcomed the
change from the rhetoric used by Pres. Bush - though he
indicated it was not as far-reaching a change as he would
have wished. But he also stressed that rhetorical change is
not, on its own, nearly enough.
"Obama talked about the Palestinian state, but not its
borders," he said. "He didn't mention whether it should
comprise all the Palestinian land that was occupied in
1967, or just part of it, as
"Yes, he spoke of an end to
activity; but can he really get them to stop? Without
addressing these issues, the speech remains rhetoric, not
so very different from his predecessor's."
Meanwhile, any time George Mitchell comes to
he needs a cup of tea, he knows where he can find one.
*Helena Cobban is a veteran
She blogs at www.JustWorldNews.org
Hamas delivers peace letter to President Obama
The Hamas government in
on the occasion of his visit to the Middle East, announcing
that Hamas was willing to talk to all parties "on the basis
of mutual respect and without preconditions." CODEPINK
cofounder Medea Benjamin, who carried the letter out from
development and an effort by Hamas to present a new face to
the Western world. "While Osama bin Laden used the occasion
of President Obama's visit to deliver a scathing attack,
Hamas reached out to a feminist
a letter to Obama urging dialogue, mutual respect and
adherence to international law," said Medea Benjamin.
In the letter, Hamas urged Obama to visit "our ground Zero"
Israel-Palestine conflict based on enlightened world
opinion and international law.
"This is a people who have just been subjected to a vicious
attack that left over 1,300 dead and thousands wounded, and
there is not a word here about armed resistance or Zionism.
They are reaching out and actively seeking a resolution to
the conflict based on the findings of the world's leading
international legal bodies and human rights organizations
from the United Nations and the International Court of
Justice to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
This is a major breakthrough and the
take advantage to begin a dialogue with Hamas."
The letter was signed by Ahmed Yusef, Deputy Foreign
Minister and hand-delivered to Benjamin, who was in
headed a 66-person delegation representing 10 nations.
Benjamin and representatives of CODEPINK are delivering the
letter to the U.S. Embassy in
Obama's visit to
The text of the letter is below.
His Excellency President Barack Obama, President of the
We welcome your visit to the Arab world and your
administration's initiative to bridge differences with the
One long-standing source of tension between the United
States and this part of the world has been the failure to
resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
It is therefore unfortunate that you will not visit
during your trip to the
Secretary of State nor George Mitchell have come to hear
our point of view.
We have received numerous visits recently from people of
widely varied backgrounds:
representatives, European parliamentarians, the
U.N.-appointed Goldstone commission, and grassroots
delegations such as those organized by the
It is essential for you to visit
passed through a brutal 22-day Israeli attack. Amnesty
International observed that the death and destruction
suffered during the invasion could not have happened
without U.S.-supplied weapons and U.S.-taxpayers' money.
Human Rights Watch has documented that the white phosphorus
warehouse and civilian neighborhoods in
manufactured in the
Shouldn't you see first-hand how
spent your money?
Before becoming president you were a distinguished
professor of law. The
wants to foster the rule of law in the Arab-Muslim world.
The International Court of Justice stated in July 2004 that
the whole of the West Bank,
occupied Palestinian territories designated for Palestinian
self-determination, and that the Jewish settlements in the
occupied Palestinian territories are illegal.
Not one of the 15 judges sitting on the highest judicial
body in the world dissented from these principles.
The main human rights organizations in the world, Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, have issued position
papers supporting the right of the Palestinian refugees to
return and compensation.
Each year in the United Nations General Assembly nearly
every country in the world has supported these principles
for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. Every year the
Arab League puts forth a peace proposal based on these
principles for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Leading human rights organizations such as Human Rights
Watch have also stated that
form of collective punishment and therefore illegal under
We in the Hamas Government are committed to pursuing a just
resolution to the conflict not in contradiction with the
international community and enlightened opinion as
expressed in the International Court of Justice, the United
Nations General Assembly, and leading human rights
organizations. We are prepared to engage all parties on the
basis of mutual respect and without preconditions.
However, our constituency needs to see a comprehensive
paradigm shift that not only commences with lifting the
expansion but develops into a policy of evenhandedness
based on the very international law and norms we are
prodded into adhering to.
Again, we welcome you to
firsthand our ground zero. Furthermore, it would enhance
and authority in dealing with all the parties.
Very Truly Yours,
Dr. Ahmed Yousef Deputy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry
Former Senior Political Advisor to Prime Minister Ismael
“Half an apology is not enough”
Abdel-Beri Atwan Editor-in-Chief of
Al-Quds al-Arabi [taken from Mideastwire.com]
“In the speech he delivered yesterday at
Barack Obama proved he understood the Arabs and Muslims
quite well and knew how to address them. This is why the
speech was filled with Koranic verses and emotional
expressions and tackled all the issues (divided into seven
main axes) without putting forward anything new or anything
that the ordinary citizens are not familiar with. He talked
about democracy without explaining how he was going to
spread it, focused on the cessation of the building of
Israeli settlements in the occupied territories without
putting forward any mechanism and stressed the commitment
to the establishment of a Palestinian state living
alongside an Israeli one, without elaborating his vision of
how to reach this goal.
“With his known intelligence and eloquence, Obama was able
to please all the sides. He thus pleased the Iraqis by
corroborating his commitment to the full withdrawal of all
the troops from their land, the Afghans when he told them
he neither wished to stay in their country nor wished to
establish permanent military bases, the democratic
[advocates] by saying he will help them, the dictators by
avoiding any talk about changing them or imposing sanctions
on them, the Jews when he lamented their suffering and
holocausts, the Palestinians by sympathizing with their
tragedy, even the youths by promising them scholarships to
job opportunities and the women in the Islamic world for
whom he demanded equality in all aspects of life.
“These words, tickled the simple-minded who were already
sympathetic toward the dark American president. However, by
looking into them, one could see they were “all talk and no
action”… President Obama, who made sure to remind us that
the United States in its current form as a superpower
emerged from the womb of the resistance against the
colonial empire (
resistance, stressed its inefficiency and asked the
Palestinian people to relinquish all types of violence
(resistance) because they will not secure their goals...
“We might have understood his criticism of the rockets of
the Islamic resistance in the Gaza Strip which are falling
on the heads of the innocent in the southern Israeli
settlements, had he firstly criticized the phosphorus bombs
and the missiles of all sizes and shapes which were
launched by the Israeli tanks, aircrafts and boats on one
and a half million unarmed Palestinians living behind the
bars of the blockade. A few days before he came to power,
President Obama said he would do the exact same thing that
the Israelis were doing (i.e. bomb the Strip), had his
children been attacked with rockets in their sleep. We had
hoped to see him correct this statements and place his
children in the position of the children of
of four hundred of whom were claimed by the Israeli rockets
and bombs during the last attack on the Gaza Strip.
“Repeating the same speech about the necessity for the
Muslims to forget the past is a beautiful idea. However, we
are not talking about historical events which occurred
7,000 years ago or even a hundred years ago. We are talking
about events which occurred a few years ago... Obama’s
speech was undoubtedly written with extreme care and was
able to astonish listeners. However, after conducting a
second reading, one could see that the man did not put
forward any drastic changes at the level of his country’s
foreign policy toward the Islamic world. What we heard was
a redrafting of this policy in a new way that does not
include provocative expressions such as the war on
terrorism among others.
“President Obama wants to open a new page with the Islamic
world, which is both possible and welcomed as long as it is
accompanied by a clear apology for
the Muslims and its ongoing wars against them and by a full
compensation for all the material and human losses that
these wars entailed. The previous American government waged
an immoral war on
recognized it was a war by choice and not out of necessity,
just like its counterpart in
half an apology, while what he should be doing is the same
thing the Germans did for the Jews and the Iraqis did for
the Kuwaitis, i.e. present a full and public apology as
well as compensations, without any maneuvers...”
- Al-Quds al-Arabi,
Robert Fisk: Most Arabs know this speech will
make little difference
I suspect that what the Arab world wants to hear is that
Obama will take his soldiers out of Muslim lands
More and more, it looks like the same old melody that
Bush's lads used to sing. We're not against the Muslim
world. In fact, we are positively for it. We want you to
have democracy, up to a point. We love Arab "moderates" and
we want to reach out to you and be your friends. Sorry
got to have a little "surge" in
Muslim villages with their paper-thin walls. And yes, we've
Everyone in the world, or so it seems, is waiting to see if
this is what Barack Obama sings. I'm not sure, though, that
the Arabs are waiting with such enthusiasm as the rest of
I haven't met an Arab in
that matter – who really thinks that Obama's "outreach"
They watched him dictate to Bibi Netanyahu – no more
settlements, two-state solution – and they saw Bibi
contemptuously announce, on the day that Mahmoud Abbas, the
most colourless leader in the Arab world, went to the White
would continue unhindered. So that's that, then.
And please note that Obama has chosen
address to the Muslims, a country run by an ageing
potentate – Hosni Mubarak is 80 – who uses his secret
police like a private army to imprison human rights
workers, opposition politicians, anyone in fact who
challenges the great man's rule. At this point, we won't
mention torture. Be sure that this little point is unlikely
to get much play in the Obama sermon, just as he surely
will not be discussing
when he chats to King Abdullah on Wednesday.
So what's new, folks? Arabs, I find, have a very shrewd
conception of what goes on in
the power politics, the dressing up of false friendship in
Rooseveltian language – even if ordinary Americans do not.
They are aware that the "new" America of Obama looks
suspiciously like the old one of Bush and his lads and
ladies. First, Obama addresses Muslims on Al-Arabiya
television. Then he addresses Muslims in
wants to address Muslims all over again in
I suppose Obama could say: "I promise I will not make any
decision until I first consult with you and the Jewish
side" along with more promises about being a friend of the
Arabs. Only that's exactly what Franklin Roosevelt told
King Abdul Aziz on the deck of USS Quincy in 1945, so the
Arabs have heard that one before. I guess we'll hear about
terrorism being as much a danger to Arabs as to
another dull Bush theme – and, Obama being a new President,
we might also have a "we shall not let you down" theme.
But for what? I suspect that what the Arab world wants to
hear – not their leaders, of course, all of whom would like
to have a spanking new
that Obama will take all his soldiers out of Muslim lands
and leave them alone (American aid, doctors, teachers, etc,
excepted). But for obvious reasons, Obama can't say that.
He can, and will, surely, try his global-Arab line; that
every Arab nation will be involved in the new
peace, a resurrection of the remarkably sane Saudi offer of
full Arab recognition of
return to the 1967 borders in accordance with the UN
Security Council Resolution 242. Obama will be clearing
this with King Abdullah on Wednesday, no doubt. And
everyone will nod sagely and the newspapers of the Arab
dictatorships will solemnly tip their hats to the guy and
the New York Times will clap vigorously.
And the Israeli government will treat it all with the same
amused contempt as Netanyahu treated Obama's demand to stop
building Jewish colonies on Arab land and, back home in
realise, just like the Arab potentates have realised, that
beautiful rhetoric and paradise-promises never, ever, win
5 June 2009
Once you strip away the mujamalat -- the courtesies
exchanged between guest and host -- the substance of
President Obama's speech in
to be little real change in
to divine Obama's intentions -- he may be utterly sincere
and I believe he is. It is his analysis and prescriptions
that in most regards maintain flawed American policies
Though he pledged to "speak the truth as best I can," there
was much the president left out. He spoke of tension
specific place, the latter a vague construct subsuming
peoples, practices, histories and countries more varied
all-encompassing "Islam" (even while professing
rapprochement and respect) is a way to avoid acknowledging
what does in fact unite and mobilize people across many
Muslim-majority countries: overwhelming popular opposition
to increasingly intrusive and violent American military,
political and economic interventions in many of those
countries. This opposition -- and the resistance it
generates -- has now become for supporters of those
interventions, synonymous with "Islam."
It was disappointing that Obama recycled his predecessor's
notion that "violent extremism" exists in a vacuum,
greater use of violence before and after 11 September 2001.
He dwelled on the "enormous trauma" done to the
almost 3,000 people were killed that day, but spoke not one
word about the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows
forced Americans to remember only for a few seconds last
year. He ignored the dozens of civilians who die each week
in the "necessary" war in
refugees fleeing the US-invoked escalation in
As President George W. Bush often did, Obama affirmed that
it is only a violent minority that besmirches the name of a
vast and "peaceful" Muslim majority. But he seemed once
again to implicate all Muslims as suspect when he warned,
"The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in
Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer."
Nowhere were these blindspots more apparent than his
statements about Palestine/Israel. He gave his audience a
detailed lesson on the Holocaust and explicitly used it as
a justification for the creation of
undeniable," the president said, "that the Palestinian
people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in
pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have
endured the pain of dislocation."
Suffered in pursuit of a homeland? The pain of dislocation?
They already had a homeland. They suffered from being
ethnically cleansed and dispossessed of it and prevented
from returning on the grounds that they are from the wrong
ethno-national group. Why is that still so hard to say?
He lectured Palestinians that "resistance through violence
and killing is wrong and does not succeed." He warned them
that "It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot
rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a
bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is
how it is surrendered."
Fair enough, but did Obama really imagine that such words
would impress an Arab public that watched in horror as
including hundreds of sleeping, fleeing or terrified
children, with American-supplied weapons? Did he think his
listeners would not remember that the number of Palestinian
and Lebanese civilians targeted and killed by
always far exceeded by orders of magnitude the number of
Israelis killed by Arabs precisely because of the American
arms he has pledged to continue giving
accountability? Amnesty International recently confirmed
what Palestinians long knew:
ceasefire when it attacked
retaliatory rockets that killed no Israelis until after
continues to remain silent about what happened in
refuses to hold
but a commitment to full truth-telling.
Some people are prepared to give Obama a pass for all this
because he is at last talking tough on Israeli settlements
in the occupied
States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli
settlements. This construction violates previous agreements
and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for
these settlements to stop."
These carefully chosen words focus only on continued
construction, not on the existence of the settlements
themselves; they are entirely compatible with the peace
process industry consensus that existing settlements will
remain where they are for ever. This raises the question of
where Obama thinks he is going. He summarized Palestinians'
"legitimate aspirations" as being the establishment of a
"state." This has become a convenient slogan that is
supposed to replace for Palestinians their pursuit of
rights and justice that the proposed state actually denies.
Obama is already on record opposing Palestinian refugees'
right to return home, and has never supported the right of
Palestinian citizens of
religious incitement, persecution and practices fanned by
He may have more determination than his predecessor but he
remains committed to an unworkable two-state "vision" aimed
not at restoring Palestinian rights, but preserving
as an enclave of Israeli Jewish privilege. It is a dead
There was one sentence in his speech I cheered for and
which he should heed: "Given our interdependence, any world
order that elevates one nation or group of people over
another will inevitably fail."
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is
author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the
Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
The audacity of hope, from
By Sami Moubayed
States Congressman John Kerry had been channeling messages
This "phone diplomacy" has succeeded, reports said, at
narrowing the gap between both countries, which appeared
strained after the
Apparently, one immediate result of engagement was the
decision to send George Mitchell, Obama's
Lebanese parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 7, and
Mitchell will discuss the
is currently on hold due to resistance from the hardline
Meanwhile, Martin Indyk, a former
spoke to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharanot, describing
a recent visit to
Walid al-Mouallem, saying: "There is greater flexibility
than in the past in
mistake to think that they have changed their position.
They will not cede a single centimeter of territory. But if
Golan, they will be willing to talk about what remains."
Another breakthrough was a phone conversation between
Mouallem and his
would welcome a visit by US Central Command officers to
Clinton and Mouallem have already met twice, in Shark
to develop a joint "road map" for improving bilateral
relations between the two countries.
said: "We will be prepared to discuss with you all issues
related to Syrian-American relations."
Although pleased at these developments,
officially comment on President Barack Obama's speech
to the Muslim world, delivered in
Ordinary Syrians went to local coffee shops to watch the
speech - a ritual that is usually reserved for Hezbollah
secretary general Hassan Nasrallah.
While they usually applause and cheer Nasrallah's rhetoric,
no clapping accompanied Obama's speech, just smiling faces
at a realization that something was changing - fast - in
live, but private Syrian channels, like al-Dunia, did.
Obama twice made reference to the Holy Koran, and spoke
about women's rights, education, democracy, and enhancing
people-to-people relations between the Muslim world, and
rhetoric by noting that democracy cannot be imposed on any
nation, which his predecessor had tried to impose on
several Arab countries (
respecting popular choice in any elections - which the
Syrians hoped, was in reference to Hamas in the Palestinian
territories, and Hezbollah in this weekend's polls in
The Syrian audience smiled when Obama used strong words
about the rights of Palestinian statehood, saying: "It is
also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and
Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland ...
They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that
come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the
situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.
Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state
of their own."
He then added, "The United States does not accept the
legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." There was
relief, accompanied by skepticism, nevertheless, inherited
from eight years of mistrust, brought about from the era of
Although many ordinary Syrians are willing to give Obama
the benefit of the doubt, since he sounded sincere when
talking about the Palestinians, they doubt if the US
president can put his words into action. There is plenty of
resentment in the US Congress, after all, over Obama's
stance on Israeli settlements.
Shelly Berkley (Democrat,
concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party
in this dispute. I think it would serve
better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the
potential of a nuclear threat from
pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle
East to stop the natural growth of their settlements."
Obama is yet to reduce sanctions, in order to really earn
the admiration of the Syrians, lift
Department List of State Sponsors of Terrorism and send an
Syrian-US relations were feared to have hit a dead-end when
Obama renewed sanctions on
the same words used by Bush when sanctions were first
imposed, in 2004. They immediately dismissed the sanctions
as routine legislation, claiming that even if he so wished,
Obama could not lift sanctions that easily, once they
become embedded in
A visit by two
Shapiro last week, helped reduce Syrian worries, and so did
the Mouallem-Clinton phone conversation. The Syrians still
believe that if Obama pulls the right strings, peace can be
achieved in the
can be improved, given that both countries share so many
common objectives in
combating al-Qaeda, supporting the political process and
helping maintain a united
cooperate on all of the above, if it is treated as an ally,
rather than an outlaw in the
Joshua Landis, an American professor who is an expert on
Syrian affairs, "
expects to make progress on outstanding foreign policy
Although Obama made no reference to
did speak about willing to sit down and speak to
no preconditions. He spoke about Palestinian statehood,
which was warmly received on the Arab street, particularly
expected, by ordinary Arabs. It was used as a pretext,
however, by Osama bin Laden to dismiss the
hours before the speech was delivered, accusing him of
being no different from Bush.
Certainly more people were listening to Obama in
the Arab world than those who paid any attention to Bin
Laden. Most Arabs reasoned that from where things stood
under Bush, the only way to go in Arab-US relations was up.
Things could never have gotten worse for the
and in testimony to that, the Arabs wanted someone who
could inspire them to hope for a better future. Obama did
just that with his
Striking a realistic tone shortly before his appearance in
my firm belief that no one speech is going to solve every
problem. There are no silver bullets. There are very real
policy issues that have to be worked through that are
difficult. And, ultimately, it's going to be action and not
words that determine the path, the progress - from here on
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in