Muslims and Arabs would like to hear a lot from President Obama, starting with Palestine, Iraq and the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf. While foreign policy is crucial, a sincere show of respect and attempt to rebuild trust are more important.
Palestine has become the litmus test for U.S. foreign policy because it has exposed U.S. hypocrisy. Examples of the double standard include U.S. bias toward Israel while it claims to be an honest broker, its push for "democracy" while rejecting the results of Palestinian elections, and its silence on Israeli nuclear weapons while blasting Iranian nuclear efforts.
There are huge expectations for Obama. Arabs and Muslims appreciate and respect American values of democracy and human rights, but the disreputable actions of U.S. soldiers, diplomats and civil servants have led many to question the U.S. commitment to its stated values. Typical references to the Judeo-Christian heritage need to be replaced by an approach appealing to universal values based on human rights, self-determination, and opposition to occupation and dictatorships. Obama needs to find a way to apologize for the past and to convince people that he is planning to change course. No one expects the U.S. president to totally change U.S. policy, but people will welcome efforts to turn a new page based on fairness and trust.
Obama could weaken the accusations of U.S. double standards and help dispel the false connection between Islam and terrorism -- as well as demonstrating a reason to trust an American president -- by establishing low-level negotiations with the elected members of the Palestinian legislature who ran on the reform-and-change bloc headed by Ismail Haniyeh. Talking to the political wing of Hamas is no different than talking to the leaders of Iran, which Obama promised to do while campaigning.
Daoud Kuttab is Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University