A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
January 22, 2009--Obama Speaks About Gaza and Peace Talks, Appoints Mitchell Special Envoy
For the first time in his official capacity, President Barack Obama spoke at some length about the Middle East. He spoke at the State Department where Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced two special envoys: George Mitchell, Envoy to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke, Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When Clinton announced the appointment of Mitchell, she stated the United States was committed to the two state solution. Mitchell himself stated he believes, after solving the problem of Ireland, there is not a problem that cannot be solved. He did after all solve an 800 year conflict. If only Israel's problems were as simple as those of Ireland.
In his speech, President Obama sounded very much like presidential candidate Obama. He started out stating that United States is a friend of Israel and will always stand beside her. He went on to state that no country could allow itself to be subject to the thousands of missiles like those fired at Israel, and that Israel had every right to self defense. He then went on to say he was pained by the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, as well as the residents of southern Israel. He stated that people should not have to live without hope. Obama further stated the border crossings should be opened, but with done so under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority. He offered America's help in coordinating a donor conference to raise money to help Gaza rebuild, but only if it was done through the Palestinian Authority. Finally, he said there were helpful elements of the Arab peace plan and now is the time for them [the moderate Arab countries] to help it along, by working against extremism and improving relations with Israel.
All together, President Obama's speech shows very little change in the overall American policy. There is clearly no change relating to Hamas. The Obama administration is clearly continuing the policy of isolating Hamas and trying to rebuild the Palestinian Authority. There was a great deal of talk today about Gilad Shalit. Some of it just hopeful dialogue, while other comments were made based on a realization that after the war in Gaza, Israel will be able to make greater concessions than prior to the war. Previously the negotiations failed due to Hamas' demand for far too many prisoners who have blood on the hands in return for Shalit's release. The feeling in Israel is that after the war the government can politically afford to release more prisoners. Of course, there is also a hope Hamas will be more flexible. The problem is Israel does not know if there is anything more than hope at work there.
One word of sadness, former President Bush has left office without pardoning poor Jonathan Pollard. His only hope these days for release is for some sort of deal that would include the release of Barghouti in return for his own.