Will Barack Obama truly be the US president who changes the image of US policy in the world and the Arab region?
Obama, the black senator who met his Kenyan father only once, when he was ten years old, conducted an unprecedented election campaign, inspiring great hope among generations of the children of immigrants around the world, especially in Europe.
Obama's campaign was based on change, especially that the image of the US under George W. Bush has hurt the American people, both domestically and internationally, ever since Bush responded to the 9/11 disaster with the war in Iraq, his failed plan to impose democracy in the Middle East, the Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006, and finally the financial and economic crisis that is sweeping America and the world.
Will Obama succeed in changing this image?
Certainly, Obama's personal qualities - intellectual, attractive, elegant - remind us of President John Kennedy; some have described him as the "black Kennedy."
The former French Prime Minister, Dominique De Villepin, said that the Obama campaign's slogan, "Yes We Can," was very attractive, and that "because Obama is a symbol of change, it will be more difficult. There is the danger of a disappointment, which means he must come up with quick solutions for his people."
Obama will have to choose between his priorities and facing impatience. Wall Street and the financial market are not easy partners; American political society is traditional and will watch all of his steps.
As for the Middle East, the Palestinian envoy to UNESCO, Elias Sanbar, believes that "no one has illusions about seeing a change in the US-Israeli alliance," but "what is extremely important is seeing Obama come up with a policy of defusing tensions in the Middle East." Sanbar added that Obama promised to solve the Arab problem, stage a withdrawal from Iraq, and adopt a diplomatic approach to solving the problem of Iran. If he does this, it can only be in the interest of Palestinians, by removing all of these tension spots.
Sanbar believes that if regional tensions are defused, the Americans will be forced to go back to serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Bush administration made hundreds of announcements of intentions to go back to negotiations. However, practically speaking, the talks were empty of content, which granted Israeli settlements a considerable "grace period." The expansion of these settlements became the only fact that changed during Bush's eight years in office.
Bush was obsessed with preventing any other party from getting involved in the negotiations. Obama, on the contrary, might agree to European participation. Obama's Middle East team includes Ambassador Dan Curtis, who represented his country in Egypt and Israel, a devout Jew and a negotiator. Palestinian sources describe him as frank, good at dialogue, and a man of principle. Another negotiator in the Obama team for the Middle East is Dennis Ross.
In a joint press conference with French President Nicholas Sarkozy on 25 July, Obama said, when asked about the Middle East, "It is going to be important for the United States to engage in a significant way in moving those issues forward."
Other important information about Obama: He knew the late Palestinian writer and thinker Edward Said and is friends with the prominent Palestinian writer and professor Rashid Khalidi, who enjoys great respect in the West and Arab circles.
The Republican candidate, John McCain, used Khalidi's name as a criticism of Obama during the campaign, even though the friendship with Khalidi is a positive mark for Obama. Certainly, Arab expectations of Obama's victory clash with the interests of the United States and its permanent ally, Israel. But at the least, the prospect of change with Obama is better than continuing the policy of war, tension and blind support for Israel, without listening to the other side.
As for Syria and Lebanon, Obama will initiate dialogue with Syria, ready as he is to talk with anyone as long as this does not come at the expense of the fundamental principles of the US, i.e. respect for Lebanon's sovereignty and independence, as well as commitment to UN Security Council resolutions and to the international tribunal to try the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
The tribunal will be formed in February after a two-month extension that chief UN investigator Daniel Bellemare will request at the end of this year, since his work requires him to ask for such an extension. The new American president will stand with justice, and with putting the criminals on trial.