Before attending an official prayer service this morning, President Barack Obama put in a bit of work, his communications office let it be known. And It appears that, not withstanding a request to temporarily postpone military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees, the first foreign policy topic the new administration addressed was the crisis in Gaza.
From press secretary Robert Gibbs:
This morning, the President placed phone calls to four Middle Eastern leaders: President Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Olmert of Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership. In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, he emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza. He pledged that the United States would do its part to make these efforts successful, working closely with the international community and these partners as they fulfill their responsibilities as well. The President appreciated the spirit of partnership and warm nature of these calls.
With Israeli forces completing a unilateral withdraw from Gaza, and Israel's domestic elections on the horizon, Obama's team is walking a delicate path while forging the beginnings of a peace process. But he is also trying to act quickly, reportedly planning to name a special envoy to the region as early as today. The envoy is rumored to be former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
One more thing of note: by placing a call to Abbas, Obama is shrewdly trying to strengthen the more moderate Fatah government at a time of weakness. Hamas may be in political conflict with Israel but they are also waging a battle for legitimacy among Palestinian governing authorities. Obama is doing his best to tilt the scales on this front -- and it will be interesting to see how direct contact from him, compared to George W. Bush, affects the outcome on this front.