Having just gotten off the plane from the Middle East, one thing is for certain: whether you are pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian or pro-whatever, there is hardly a soul who is not rooting for a big Obama victory on Tuesday (except for extremist settlers and extremist Islamists) .
The obsession with our election is genuine and genuinely welcome. Israelis anticipate an Obama administration that will be back in the business of untying the gordian knot that characterizes a peace process on life support (remember Bush promised at the Annapolis Summit to produce an Israeli-Palestinian agreement before his term ends...yep, just another broken pledge on the resume of Condi's Rice's shattered legacy that has left the region even deeper in a hole).
Palestinians (and dare I say most Israelis) are hopeful that even if the next Israeli election produces another Likud government under Netanyahu, that just the sheer velocity of Obama's positive policy changes in the Middle East will compel Netanyahu to succumb to the urgent need to put a two-state solution onto the express rails. Indeed, an Obama election has the capacity to positively impact, however indirectly, the outcome of both Israeli and Palestinian elections early next year. What wonderful tonic for a region where extremists on both sides will try to influence the election to their own worst devices.
Election parlor talk is rampant. Everyone is wrestling with that strange creature otherwise known as the electoral college (tortured media explanations are Daily Show material), and local political commentators are explaining American polls and following the candidates as if their own nations' futures depend on it (and for all intents and purposes, it just very well may).
Israeli journalists are appearing on Palestinian television debating the merits of the candidates. Palestinian television outlets are carrying first hand reports from battleground states, focusing on how Arab-Americans are supporting the Obama-Biden ticket. Israel and Palestine are no different than the rest of the Middle East where Arab media are outdoing themselves in covering the U.S. election (with a clear preference to paint the McCain-Palin ticket as "Bush 3" in vernacular Arabic.
For all the vaunted Bush-Cheney-Rice failed ideology of cramming democracy down the throats of Arab oligarchs and indifferent Arab citizenry, the election of a President Obama will be the single most important lesson in democracy development we could possibly hope to enshrine as the foremost example for the future of potential civil liberties and enlightened leadership in the Middle East. Obama's extended coattails will galvanize secular civil society leaders into believing that they can actually rely on an American president who will begin unraveling the hair-trigger policies that have placed the Middle East on the precipice of crisis and conflict for the past eight years.
As excited as I am about what an Obama election may mean for a more stable, secure and peaceful Middle East, I have no illusions that the dark forces of the region are less preoccupied with Sarah Palin's 5th Avenue wardrobe than imposing their own terms and conditions on the incoming Obama administration and doing everything possible to reshape the terrain to their advantage.
In Lebanon, there are disturbing signs that Hezbollah's leadership is itching for a repeat of its military confrontation with Israel by smuggling into southern Lebanon sophisticated Syrian-supplied ground-to-air missile batteries to shoot down Israeli reconnaissance flights. Additionally, in retaliation for America's recent attack against an Al Qaeda target inside Syria its leaders are urgently planning a counter-strike of some sort to serve as a warning to an incoming Obama administration that Syria will not tolerate a similar attack on its territory under the next American president.
And the slow, steady fuse of an Iranian nuclear program continues burning unabated. Sources I met with advised that Iran's leadership realizes that an Obama presidency compels them to generate the appearance of a modicum of global responsibility given their calculation that an international honeymoon for the new administration will be in order. I was informed by regional journalists who cover Iran, that its government is preparing a post-Bush policy proposal to the new president which would include, among other things, a tantalizing offer to suspend its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for a long list of concessions, including Israel's dismantling of its own nuclear program (think of North Korea, here).
Surely, the list of challenges and obstacles the a new American president faces in the Middle East are daunting, and too numerous to go through here: Iraq, Lebanon, Hamas, Al Qaeda, oil exports, Iran, etc. after chilling etc. But there is considerable room to change the dynamics of a region caught in neoconservative hell.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose Peres Center for Peace Center celebrated this past week its 10th anniversary of success in fostering Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in science, technology, business, and medicine, once ruefully noted on the subject of Arab Israeli peace that there can be no light at the end of the tunnel, because there is not even a tunnel.
Hopefully, that is about to change, and for those of us who have never given up hope on a better Middle East for Arab and Israeli with the election of a President Obama the sign on its new Middle East policy team's wall will surely read "DIG WE MUST!"
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