Obama’s First Moves: MidEast Reacts to Mitchell

Jan 27, 2009 10:51pm

By Lara Setrakian, ABC News, Dubai As former Senator George Mitchell begins his Middle East tour, tasked with solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the Arab press is ablaze with reactions. Lebanon’s an-Nahar newspaper, owned by pro-Western elements in that country, criticized Obama’s policy start for lack of originality. “There should have been a search for different plans, revolutionary visions, unusual approaches, a new strategy, creative people, and a readiness to abandon the old. With all his calls for change, his alternative logic, and his creative ideas, Barack Obama has done nothing for the Middle East but bring back Mitchell from old boxes, dust off his plans eroded by forgetfulness, and ask a figure from the past to fulfill a mission from the past,” wrote An-Nahar’s Amin Qammouriyyeh, as translated by the Middle East Mirror. The cynicism comes from what’s seen as failed experience – after Mitchell’s success in Northern Ireland and before his famous tackling of steroids in sports, Mitchell was tapped by the Clinton administration to chair a fact-finding committee working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. “Mitchell is now returning to the Middle East. But he is now nine years older and the situation in the region has gone back ten years. In fact, the current scene seems much worse than the old scene he witnessed in 2001,” wrote An-Nahar, citing Palestinian political divisions, a lack of strong leadership in Ramallah, and the advance of Israeli settlements. The regional al-Quds al-Arabi, among others, made note of Mitchell’s Arab-American roots – his mother was an immigrant from Lebanon, his father Irish-Catholic – but did so with caution. “The Arab officials who will meet with the U.S. envoy must bear in mind that the man represents the interests of an U.S. administration. In fact, his Arab origins may force him to adopt a more hardline position with the Arabs so as to prove his loyalty to this administration by displaying the highest degree of neutrality possible,” said the paper. Perhaps ironically, one of the softer voices came from Syrian newspaper ath-Thawra: “[Mitchell's] visit is a reflection of the administration’s desire to get involved in an active peace process,” wrote Ali Nasrallah “This administration must realize…that it cannot start from square one. It must review the experiences of the past years in order to familiarize itself with the facts, and it must resort to the criteria, requirements, and prerequisites of peace.” That analysis is fairly consistent with the tone Obama himself has set for the trip. In his first formal interview since the inauguration, Obama said to Al Arabiya television: “What I told [Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved.  So let’s listen.  He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved…from there we will formulate a specific response.” That Obama gave his first major interview to Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned network based in Dubai, was an added gesture of goodwill to a region where what you say can be as important as where you say it. Read More Blogs From Lara Setrakian Read More Blogs from the ABC News Staff

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