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Arabs see Obama aligning with Bush-McCain positions
By Sana Abdallah
Middle East Times
July 25, 2008

Amman - The high-profile visit by Democratic presidential frontrunner Senator Barack Obama to the Middle East this week seems to have constituted a reality check that regardless of the changes Obama might bring to America if he takes over the White House, U.S. policy in the region will remain unchanged.

The U.S. senator`s visit to Iraq, Jordan, Israel and a brief stop in the West Bank received heavy media attention in the Arab world, where people had initially hoped that an African-American president with a Muslim background would cause a `white revolution` in U.S. policy toward their causes.

But Obama`s visits and the statements he made during his international tour has been a disappointment to many in this turbulent region.

Although Obama had repeated his campaign pledge to pull out the bulk of U.S. troops from Iraq which has anyway become a consensus Iraqi demand some commentators said his words still had the undertones of a `colonizing power` that wanted to keep a foothold in the oil-rich country.

But while it is acknowledged that an Obama administration could not be blamed for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and that he is expected to try to clean up the effects of the war there, it was his position on the Arab-Israeli conflict that irked so many Arab commentators.

Analysts say that seeking the domestic Jewish vote and appeasing the pro-Israeli organization, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington did not require what some described as exaggerated pledges of loyalty to Israel, while virtually ignoring the national plight of the Palestinians.

Many Arab newspapers on Friday splashed their front pages with pictures of Obama wearing the Jewish kippah at the Wailing Wall in East Jerusalem, with commentaries criticizing him for trying to be `more Israeli than the Israelis.`

A headline in Lebanon`s pan-Arab nationalist As-Safir daily read: `Obama: Admirer of Israeli Wall and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.`

A short commentary under that headline quoted his words to 200,000 people in Berlin on Thursday, saying he called for `unity among the races and religions; called for tearing down all forms of walls.`

`His remarks contradicted the previous 15 hours he spent in Palestine as he coaxed the leaders of the Israeli occupation, declaring Jerusalem as Israeli, while he stood near the apartheid wall that he had completely ignored,` the paper said, in reference to a massive concrete fence that Israel is erecting in the West Bank.

During his two-day visit to Israel, Obama had sought to comfort Israeli concerns that he might not be as supportive of the Jewish state as U.S. President George W. Bush or his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, by pledging his unwavering support for Israel and its security.

Whether that means he would adopt the Israeli understanding of how to protect its security such as the hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank that Palestinians complain make their lives hell, the closures of towns, the blockade on Gaza and the separation barrier remains to be seen, as Obama has tried to use only general terminology as he picks his way through the political minefields leading up to the U.S. elections.

But hopes that Obama would be `less biased` toward Israel began to crumble before he embarked on his trip to the region, specifically when he told the powerful AIPAC lobby last month that Jerusalem was the `undivided capital of Israel.`

His busy schedule in Israel, while only squeezing in a 40-minute meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah which was not followed with a press conference or joint statement, had only consolidated the general disappointment to the initially high expectations.

Some Arab pundits argue that because Bush`s policy is so popular in Israel, Obama sought to repeat the Bush administration`s positions during his visit there, and even began to change his stand on issues like Iran, which he had previously said should be engaged in dialogue over its nuclear program, and parroted Bush`s position that the military option should not be ruled out.

Others say that Obama`s visit to the region should be seen purely as a campaign tour and suggest it is too soon to see what kind of policy he would adopt for the Middle East if he became president, though they warn against having any illusions that Washington would ease its support for Israel.

Skeptics say that whoever wins the next U.S. election will not be different than Bush in terms of Middle East policy, and other critics say that while Obama is not expected to introduce any dramatic changes to that policy, he would still likely be `less extreme and less hostile` in his approach than the outgoing administration.

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