What Arabs expect of Obama
Men at a Cairo coffee shop watch U.S. President Barack Obama deliver his speech to the Muslim world in June 2009.
May 18th, 2011
01:11 PM ET

What Arabs expect of Obama

Editor’s Note: Sami Moubayed is a university professor, political analyst, and editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

By Sami Moubayed – Special to CNN

In his speech to Arabs and Muslims on Thursday, President Obama needs to repeat what he said in Cairo in 2009 - only this time, he needs to follow words with actions.

Palestinians need land, dignity, justice and a state.  Thankfully, now is the time for this and for Middle East peace. Let me explain.

So much has changed

So much has changed in the Middle East since President Barack Obama last addressed Arabs and Muslims from Cairo almost two years ago. To name a few recent events:

Egypt's Revolution: President Obama’s former host and prime ally in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, is now behind bars. Arab regimes feel it no longer pays well to be pro-American because clearly, from the Egyptian case, the U.S. is willing to abandon its most loyal allies when the curtain falls.

War in Libya: America is now militarily involved in yet another Muslim country with less-than-pleasing results.

Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation: The two Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas, once sharply divided between the West Bank and Gaza, have now patched up their differences and are speaking with one voice. They are ready for a peace talks with the Israelis under the auspices of the United States.

Osama Bin Laden is now dead: thanks to President Obama himself.

So much remains the same

These are major events. Yet if one were to scratch beneath the surface, all of the region’s problems remain hauntingly similar.  None of the grudges or conflicts of the past have been solved. To name a few more:

The Sheba Farms are still occupied by Israel.

Hezbollah is still armed, powerful and connected to Iran. It continues to hold the upper hand in Lebanese politics.

Hamas still has an Islamic agenda and poses a direct threat to Israel.  Meanwhile, Fatah continues to have the same aged and ailing leadership that is corrupt, unpopular and can no longer deliver on nation-building or peace.

The Golan Heights are still occupied by Israel and no progress whatsoever has been made on the Syrian-Israeli front.

Iraq is still in pieces.

There is no Palestinian State.

Can Obama deliver on one, some, all, or none of the above? No other U.S. President ever managed to tackle more than one crisis of this magnitude at a time.  But then again, never in recent history has the time been so ripe for redefining America’s role in the Middle East.

Why the time for peace is now

President Obama can provide a fresh blueprint for how things should look between now and 2013. The Arab-Israeli conflict, being the crux of all tension in the Arab World, is at a crossroads because of the Hamas-Fatah rapprochement.

In the past, regardless of how sincere Obama may have been, peace was simply impossible because Fatah was unable to deliver, while the Israelis and Hamas were unwilling. That has now changed.

Since 2009, we have noticed a steady U-turn in Hamas’ behavior. The group’s leaders have expressed willingness to accept a U.S. role in the peace process, provided that Obama acts as an honest broker, making sure that settlements are frozen, the siege of Gaza is lifted and Palestinian nationhood is advanced.

Hamas said it was willing to accept the borders of 1967 and no longer obstruct the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which calls for collective Arab peace with Israel in exchange for complete with withdrawal from Arab land. Gone are the days of a hard-line Hamas that accepts nothing less than the 1948 borders of Palestine.

This Hamas is wiser and more pragmatic, more willing than ever before to walk the path taken by Fatah 18-years ago when Yasser Arafat decided to go to Oslo and transform himself from ‘freedom fighter’ to ‘peacemaker.’

Perhaps Hamas is not half as convinced as Yasser Arafat was in the early 1990s, but that is beside the point: they will do what it takes to reach power and walk in Arafat’s footsteps. They have fallen into the same pitfall as every other resistance movement throughout history: they are now craving power, knowing perfectly well that it might corrupt them. It happened to Fatah in 1993. It happened to the communists in 1917. It is now happening to Hamas.

What President Obama must do

The time is ripe for Obama to push for peace in the Middle East now that Hamas will not object. It of course needs to be a just peace, where everything is put on the table: the right of return for Palestinian refugees, borders, settlements, the future of Jerusalem, and Palestinian nationhood.

In the complex web of Middle East politics, nothing is solved until everything is solved, and Obama needs to understand that a new approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot come in bits and pieces.

He needs to put his foot down on the Israelis.

With or without U.S. support, the Palestinians are planning to take the matter to the United Nations General Assembly next September. The Palestinians are expected, by some rough estimates, to win 140 votes, whereas all they will need at the UN is 128 in order to declare the State of Palestine.

Obama can either sit back and watch it happen, veto it as the Israelis are asking or live up to his “Yes We Can” policy and put his full weight behind the Palestinians.

Two years ago, Obama said:

“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. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate 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."

Obama needs to say that again, explicitly, but this time, make sure that he puts his words into action.

It all boils down to three fundamentals that Obama needs to address on Thursday: land, dignity and justice for the Palestinians. That is what the Arab street wants to hear.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Sami Moubayed.

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Islam • Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority • President Obama

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soundoff (323 Responses)
  1. Andy

    If Palestinians want their state so much, why didn't they create it before 6-day war? Gaza belonged to Egypt, West Bank belonged to Jordan. Why didn't Arab friends and neighbors help their fellow Palestinians create a country?
    Over 1mln. Arabs live in Israel now, for some reason they prefer to live there not outside of Israel.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  2. john19600

    there will never be peace in the middle east when you have got iran who would like to wipe israel off the map syria hamas fatah terrorists i dont blame the jews after all what happened to them in world war 2 (yes it did happen )no wonder they wont back down to these terrorist organisations and you get these so called muslims terroirists but they dont calling for a holy war with the west thats why there will never be peace the only time i see israel attacking anyone is when they are threatend and attacked themselves god bless uk and usa

    May 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  3. David

    " barrack Obama needs to put his foot down in the israeli's"
    That explains a lot, you scum. I will put my foot down on you and let all the Palestinians into your house, where they belong.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  4. MoneyForNewTowels

    That's what they want.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  5. Jason

    Palestine (ˈpælɪˌstaɪn)

    — n
    1. the Holy Land , Also called: Canaan the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in which most of the biblical narrative is located
    2. the province of the Roman Empire in this region
    3. the former British mandatory territory created by the League of Nations in 1922 (but effective from 1920), and including all of the present territories of Israel and Jordan between whom it was partitioned by the UN in 1948

    Word Origin & History


    from L. Palestina (name of a Roman province), from Gk. Palaistine (Herodotus), from Heb. Pelesheth "Philistia, land of the Philistines." Revived as a political territorial name 1920.

    Dear Arabs, get over it, "Palestine" is a latin word, not a country. You're trying to make your own country because the countries your fathers and grandfathers are from would not let them back in after 1948. Not they intentionally left you in the reestablished "Israel" for the explicit purpose of creating this situtation.

    You have no right to the land, you just took it after the Romans sacked it, burned it to the ground, and got bored with it. Well, Israel took it back. This is the ebb and flow of history, nations and borders change with bloody conquest. This is nothing new. If you want a country with a Romanized name of a long dead race of people (Philista) you're going to have to fight and kill every last Jew for it because they aren't leaving. They are back in the land of their fathers after 1250 years. They survived the Philistines, Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians,Greeks (Ptolmys in particular), the Romans who scattered them to the four winds, and the Nazis who hunted them down. They have a tenacity you cannot stop so just stop fighting them! They have no problem with you living in Israel, or being Muslim. They just want their land, and their temple back.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  6. Randy

    Blame is irrelevant at this point. Let's focus on a solution where everyone can live in peace.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  7. D Grant

    How will you people of the earth continue to live? I hope much better than this.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  8. mark

    in 1907 there where 7000 jews in palestine and 600,000 palestinians most arab countrys did not declare independence until the 1940's they where colonized by france and britian when world war 1 jews from europe started migrating to palestine 925 population 80,000 thousand from 7000 world war 2 started jewish population rose too 400,000 by 1948 600,000 jews over 1 million jews from russian alone immagrated to palestine alone while palestinians are still in refugee camps for over 60 years if palestinian is not liberated by peace it will be by force

    May 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  9. Linas Muliolis

    How does the author of this article reconcile the two following statements?
    - Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation: The two Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas, once sharply divided between the West Bank and Gaza, have now patched up their differences and are speaking with one voice. *****They are ready for a peace talks with the Israelis under the auspices of the United States.*****
    - Hamas still has an Islamic agenda and poses a direct threat to Israel. Meanwhile, Fatah continues to have the same aged and ailing leadership that is corrupt, unpopular and can no longer deliver on nation-building or peace.

    Two completely contradictory statements! Well the answer is this – Palistinians will sit down and promise peace at the negotiating table while their cronies are manufacturing more suicide vests!

    May 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  10. razor

    Wow on the ignorance of people. This world is GODS world, no one owns any land or water or air. There is a judgement day coming and GOD willl decide it all for you. So people dont waste your time on arguing on whats what. This is GODS world. Know one but got will decide whats what so keep talking and expressing your negativity and your ignorance go ahead. WOW. so ignorant.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  11. andrew

    People attach too much weight to the words wipe Israel off the map. Borders change all the time. The only difference between now and a hundred years ago is back then two armies stood opposite each other, played a few trumpets and proceeded to charge at one another. Once it was over land was divided up. This whole dividing the holy land into arab and jewish territories is so tedious. You want real peace in the region then just demilitarize the area and turn it into a tourist attraction.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  12. patrick A.

    Zionist are so Manipulative,they even manage to Make Christians have sympathy for them,explain to me Christians how do you end up loving the people who had your Jesus Christ, Messiah Killed.
    Don,t tell me it was the Romans,they didn,t careless about or what Jesus was until you JEWS asked for his head.

    I guess without the Old Garbage lies in the old testament,there wouldn,t be a new testament,so that,s where the love affair come from.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  13. amrican0000077777

    Arabs and Jews are genetically same DNA.before 1948 they are living together peacefully and there is no major Beatles and genocide between Jews and Arabs.Hate is created Zionists by there own secret agenda.The Best Solution of Problem is Jews And Palestinian Arabs are Living Single Country Name PalestinoIsrael or IsraeloPalestin.All Jews and Palestinian Refugees are stile in this Country. Country is govern by Democratically.The best Example of this solution is South Africa.If genetically different DNA People are live together in one country then genetically same DNA Palestinian and Jews are why not !?

    May 19, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  14. Remy Aurelius

    Fantastic and congratulations Mr. President. You have finally said what everyone in the world has wanted to hear from America for decades. Israel must get back to its pre-1967 borders and that's that. Lack of fair handedness has cost us billions, many lives, wars, the rise of Al Qaeda and the loss of respect and trust among our friends. yes, Israel must be recognized and protected, but not at the expenses of others. Bless you Mr. President.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  15. clothingvli

    We provide cheap Jerseys and Brands Womens Clothing&Mens Clothing:wholesale nfl jerseys,Authentic NFL Jerseys,nfl jerseys

    June 23, 2011 at 6:49 am | Reply
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