A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
January 21, 2009--Obama Calls Mideast Leaders on Day One
Those who read yesterday's update have surely realized that I was wrong. President Barack Obama kept his promise to deal with the Middle East on his first day. This took place not only on his first day, but in his first hours at work. Shortly after 8 AM, Obama made his first call to the Middle East to Palestinian President Abbas. In the call it was reported that on one hand he spoke about the need for moving forward with the peace process, but also the need to make sure that Hamas does not attain new arms. Obama offered money for the rebuilding of Gaza, but only if goes through the Palestinian Authority. After speaking to Abbas, Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Egyptian President Mubarak, and King Faad of Saudi Arabia. This was a clear message showing his support for moderate countries of the Arab world.
The Arab world has been enthusiastic about the swearing in of President Obama. All the television stations in the Arab world, with the exception of Syria and that of Hamas but including Iran and Hezbollah, carried the inauguration live. There is a hope that American policy is changing. In Iran there is hope that new relations can be established with the United States. The young and the opposition hope it can indeed be a new era; many in the regime cynically look at the possibility of negotiating with the US as a way of finishing their nuclear development without being disturbed. Al Jazeerah has been running continued stories on Guatanamo Bay, in the anticipation that the order will come to close it.
President Obama is expected to announce his Envoy to the Middle East tomorrow. It is expected to be Senator George Mitchell. Mitchell has already undertaken one mission to the Middle East in the past, and is trusted by both sides. He will no doubt come down hard on the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The last time he made recommendations, Mitchell came out very strongly against internal growth of any of the settlements.
For the third time, the Israeli Supreme Court canceled the elimination of the Arab Ra'am, Tal, and Balad parties from the upcoming Israeli elections. As has happened in past elections, the central elections committee ruled that they should be barred, since their members preach against the very nature of the state. The Supreme Court ruled that the actions of individuals do not necessarily affect the standing of the party. It stated that there is no evidence that the party themselves were undermining the nature of the state. While this was a technical ruling, it is one that will certainly allow Israel to avoid a great deal of bad public relations at a critical time.
The financial crisis is beginning to hit Israel in many different ways. The business class of flights in and out of Israel is no longer full, and housing prices have fallen an average of 5%, with rental prices down 10%.