How the New US President Can Win a lasting Middle East Peace

By Akram Baker

BERLIN ~ In looking at how the ascension of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States could affect the Middle East, I am firmly of the belief that to find the answer one need look no further than the way he ran his stunningly successful campaign. By far, it was the most professional, strategically-mapped and brutally well-managed two years that any politician could design, with a potent mix of inspiration and perspiration tapping into the Zeitgeist. While running a campaign is clearly not the same as governing, many valuable indicators can be gleaned to show how the man from Illinois will tackle the Herculean challenges awaiting him and his administration.

Despite conventional wisdom, the core of many of the Middle East’s problems, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is not an intractable morass that lacks solutions. In truth, the desired outcomes, and the path thereto, are relatively clear: a safe, secure and democratic Israel living in peace, prosperity and mutual recognition with its neighbors; a free, independent and democratic Palestine within the pre-June 1967 borders and the creation of a united Jerusalem as the capital of the two countries. There are reams of documents and studies that lay out these plans in minute detail and are readily available to any and all. All that is needed is US leadership that is willing to implement these plans.

The entire facade of peace negotiations during the past eight years has been proven to be not only a canard, but completely ineffectual to boot. The incoming president can change all of that if he applies the same laser-sharp focus he employed during his amazing run for office. As a public service, I would humbly like to make a few, unsolicited suggestions as to how the president-elect can translate his hard won political capital into lasting peace in the Middle East:
• Announce the formation of a team to exhume the most relevant and agreed upon plans already in existence. This should be easy seeing that a lot of the work done was completed during the Clinton administration.
• Appoint a high-level presidential emissary (Colin Powell?) and empower him/her to hammer out the deal with the parties. This person, who would report directly to the president (with a dotted line to the secretary of state), would immediately bring on board America’s allies and partners in the European Union, Russia, China and the United Nations. Only then would they approach the Israelis and the Palestinians. This group needs real power, not like the horribly ineffectual Quartet of yesterday. Barack Obama will be inaugurated on 20 January 2009, with unprecedented amounts of goodwill around the world, especially among America’s allies. He needs to harness that potential as soon as possible.
• Make a major speech on how the new administration sees the Middle East, what it wants to achieve and how it is going to go about it. As the most powerful person on this planet, Obama’s bully pulpit is worth its weight in gold. And while much of the world will be very happy to have America lead again, it would be prudent and correct to give a substantial portion of the stage over to America’s friends and partners. This would clearly send a message that the United States is no longer going it alone and make its position infinitely stronger.

Coupled with the gradual withdrawal of US troops in Iraq and the opening of serious negotiations with Iran, President Obama will be able to gain the confidence of a vast majority of the world’s peoples. He can also tap into a wealth of talented individuals just raring to tackle this problem, people willing to dedicate their lives in the pursuit of real peace. There is probably no more opportune time in history for a comprehensive solution to be found, if only he can find the inner strength of character that I am more than confident he possesses.

In his campaign, Barack Obama never strayed from his core message, never gave in to scoring cheap political points, no matter how hard he was pressed to do so. With his team’s nearly flawless performance, he has shown the world what can be accomplished when Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and atheist join forces, bringing a message of hope over fear forged with professional competence. There is no better testimony to this (and to the enduring power of a real democracy like the United States) than the election to the presidency of a skinny black man born in Hawaii with a funny name.

Akram Baker is an independent Palestinian political advisor and co-president of the Arab Western Summit of Skills.

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