April 22, 2008
Obama’s ME Policy: Support for Israel
Barack Obama said Friday, April 11, 2008 he would not meet with representatives of Hamas but declined to criticize former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s reported planned meeting with the head of the radical Palestinian group. “I’ve said consistently that I would not meet with Hamas, given that it’s a terrorist organization,” the Illinois senator, who is locked in a bitter battle for the Democratic presidential nomination with rival Hillary Clinton, said at a press briefing in Indianapolis. “It’s not a state, and until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism, and abides or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements that have been entered into, I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” (Reference for text: AFP)
Barack Obama will take a hands-on approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking if elected US president but without pressuring Israel any more than his rivals for the White House, advisers say.
Obama’s advisers assail US President George W. Bush for taking a low-profile approach during the first seven years in office and for not following up more vigorously on the Annapolis peace summit he launched in November. “What is true is that (Obama) is undeniably and openly committed to putting his own presidential power in the service of trying to help the Israelis achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians,” said a close Obama adviser who was not authorized by the campaign to speak for attribution. “That doesn’t equate to pressure. It does equate to a sustained commitment.”
The Democrat, who would be the first black American president if elected in November, has yet to fully outline a detailed approach to Middle East peacemaking. Casting himself as the candidate of change, he has vowed not to change the unflinching support of Israel that is a cornerstone of US Middle East policy. Critics have raised doubts about his commitment to the Jewish state, floating rumors that Obama is a Muslim and linking him to Louis Farrakhan, a US political figure known for his anti-Israel rhetoric. Obama is a Christian and has denounced Farrakhan. His campaign is upset by what they see as scurrilous attacks by those seeking to erode his support with US Jewish voters. “The tenets of Sen. Obama’s Middle East policy are that he is a staunch supporter of Israel and strongly supports Israel’s right to self-defense,” said Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat who the senator consults on Middle East issues.
Some foreign policy conservatives have openly questioned Obama’s approach on the Middle East, criticizing his call for direct talks with states like Iran and suggesting he would be more inclined than other presidential candidates to pressure Israel to make concessions toward the Palestinians. “There is no evidence to that,” said Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel and Egypt, recently recruited to advise Obama on the Middle East and reach out to Jewish voters. The senior adviser said Obama is highly sensitive to the dilemma many Israelis face, on the one hand wanting peace but worrying about the ability of divided Palestinians to follow through on any promises made in talks. “The Israelis have every reason to be cautious and skeptical as they evaluate whether they have a Palestinian partner that is not only committed to peace but also capable of delivering on that,” the adviser said.
In the Arab world, where many view US policy as biased toward Israel, there is intense interest in whether Obama’s approach to the Middle East would be different. Some Muslim commentators closely following the US election find little indication of that in his rhetoric or Senate record, which includes his co-sponsorship of a resolution during the 2006 Lebanon war that strongly backed Israel’s right to defend itself.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a US-based journalist for the Daily Star of Lebanon wrote: “Even from a Lebanese viewpoint, there is no reason to believe that Obama would be better than Bush on Israel.” While in sync with Bush’s policy of championing Israel’s right to defend itself, Obama also backs the administration’s policy of shunning Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip last June, in favor of talks with rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Obama is facing greater difficulty in defining for voters his views on the Middle East than has New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination and a former first lady, or Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee who has been a prominent voice on foreign policy for years. On Israel, McCain is likely to be as staunch an ally as fellow Republican Bush. Clinton benefits from the reputation that her husband, Bill Clinton, had of rock-solid support for the Jewish state.