Obama Nobel Peace Prize: What Arabs think
The Obama Nobel Peace Prize is seen as inappropriate by many Arabs, who are angry about the surge of US troops into Afghanistan and a stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
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Trampling of goodwillSkip to next paragraph
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When Obama took office last January, Arab expectations were high that the advent of a new American presidency would signal a warmer era for US-Arab relations after the polarizing policies of the Bush administration. All seemed to be going well in those early months when Obama publicly called for a "freeze" in Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. In June, he traveled to Cairo to deliver an address to the Arab world in which he pledged "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world."
But Washington's actions have trampled on the goodwill created by Obama's words. When the Israeli government dug in its heels and offered only to "limit" the pace of settlement construction, the Obama administration backed down. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November described the Israeli offer as "unprecedented" and urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his demand for a settlement freeze as a precondition to the resumption of peace talks with Israel.
The Palestinians were further dismayed by Washington's lukewarm reception to the UN fact-finding mission, led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, into Israel's offensive against Gaza a year ago. The Goldstone report, released in September, concluded that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. But it reserved the bulk of its criticism for the actions of Israel, which refused to cooperate with the investigation on the grounds that doing so would legitimize an effort that Israel alleged was inherently biased.
'Colorless' start to Obama's term
Obama may have good intentions, but that's not enough to "pull through with a serious peace process in the Middle East," says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian author and political analyst. "From where the Syrians see things, Obama will be judged on how things develop on the issue of the occupied Syrian Golan. And so far, nothing concrete has happened, thanks to a hard-line cabinet in Israel, and an uncooperative US Congress, that has made Obama's first 11-months, more or less, colorless when it comes to the Middle East."
Syria and Israel lately have been putting out feelers for a potential resumption of peace talks. Turkey brokered several rounds of indirect talks between Syria and Israel in 2008 until Damascus withdrew from the process in response to Israel's war on Gaza. So far, the US has proven reluctant to wade into Israeli-Syrian peacemaking, despite seeking a tentative reengagement with Damascus.
Obama's decision to dispatch 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan along with a pledge to begin withdrawing US forces by July 2011 has met with little enthusiasm in the Arab world.
"President Obama said that the days of American hegemony over other populations has come to an end, which were beautiful words reflecting a beautiful vision," said an editorial in the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper on Dec. 3. "However, the first step to translate this vision the right way would be to pull out, recognize the mistake and stop the bloodbath entailed by the American military operations in Afghanistan."