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Obama welcomes his first Arab leader to White House

After meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, he emphasized his commitment to Palestinian statehood – a top concern among Arabs.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 21, 2009

King Abdullah II of Jordan (r.), whose agenda was shaped in part by a meeting with Arab allies prior to his US trip, walks with President Barack Obama outside the Oval Office at the White House on Tuesday.

Larry Downing/Reuters

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Amman, Jordan

At a critical juncture in the Arab-Israeli peace process, President Obama on Tuesday underscored his commitment to a two-state solution in his first private meeting with an Arab leader since taking office.

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King Abdullah II of Jordan, who arrived at the White House on Tuesday morning, in many ways represented the agenda of his allies in the Middle East. While many Arabs are hopeful that Mr. Obama's administration will turn a new page in the region, they have been waiting for the new president to clarify to what extent he will depart from his predecessor's policies. Top on their list of concerns is Palestinian statehood.

"I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution," Obama affirmed in remarks after the meeting, adding that he believed many Israelis support it as well. The problem, he said, was cynicism. "What we want to do is to step back from the abyss and say, 'As hard as it is, as difficult as it is, the prospect of peace still exists.' "

That message contrasts with many who have been dismayed and discouraged with the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he is open to peace with the Palestinians, but has shown little, if any, willingness to negotiate with Palestinians or make concessions. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank remain divided as Hamas and Fatah struggle to create a unity government.

Throughout the Arab world, many analysts say that the US has the power to help bring an end to the conflict if it adopts the right policies. Economic and security benefits are especially important, says Mazen Alaugili, a political science professor at Muta University in Karak, Jordan.

"By America exercising some influence and helping the Israelis from a security point of a view and getting guarantees from the international community, it can bring this issue to an end," says Professor Alaugili. "The Americans have a lot of support from leaders in Israel and they have a lot of support [from] leaders in the Arab world."

How big a US role?

Still, many remain skeptical about just how a big a difference US support can make when it comes to mitigating the conflict. Citing the aggressive new Israeli government and the divide between Hamas and Fatah, Avraham Sela, a professor of international relations at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says unless there is an internal movement toward cooperation, it will be difficult for any outside power like the US to help forge a peace agreement.

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