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A First Step Toward Obama, Haaretz, June 12, 2009

This is not a portion of U.S. President Barack Obama's address in Cairo, but a paragraph from a document that appears to be one of the most important sources of inspiration guiding his Middle East policy: the Baker-Hamilton report, published in December 2006. The Baker-Hamilton committee was a bipartisan task force headed by former secretary of state James Baker, for the Republicans, and Lee Hamilton, had chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affairs for many years, for the Democrats. Baker had been responsible to a great extent for George W. Bush's victory in the November 2000 elections, but like other moderate Republicans who served in the elder Bush's administration, he disagreed with the younger Bush's foreign policy and recommended a change in direction in Iraq and other places. Bush rejected the Baker-Hamilton report, but Obama adopted some of its main recommendations even before he became president. He announced during his campaign that if elected he would enter a dialogue with Iran and Syria and put the Palestinian question high on his list of priorities. From Israel's point of view, the troubling element in the Baker-Hamilton report is the direct link made between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question and America's difficulties in its relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. The argument is not a new one. Since 1948 there has been a debate between those who claim that U.S. support for Israel is a source of tension with large segments of the Arab and Muslim world, and those who argue that the tension stems from many sources: the Arab world's problems in dealing with the modern West, U.S. support for conservative regimes, the American military presence in the Arabian peninsula, the invasion of Iraq, and the systematic support for Israel. Obama appears to have adopted the first version. Once in the White House, he immediately had to deal with a frightening amount of international issues: a nuclear crisis with North Korea, threatened destabilization in Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the commitment to pull out of Iraq, and the need to build new ties with Russia and China. The Arab and Muslim countries play a central role in this web. Whoever was concerned that without quick and effective involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict it will be impossible to resolve these issues, or at least lessen them, has definitely placed the Palestinian question at the top of his priority list. This road map of Obama and his administration requires Israel to do two things. First it must develop a counter-narrative to the one that emerged in the Baker-Hamilton report. Second it must step out of the debate over settlements' natural growth and begin preparations for the major move that is expected. This will come in the form of an American initiative for resuming the peace process on a massive scale. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address can, and must, be a significant first step along this path. Published by Haaretz on June 12, 2009

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