THE BLOG
08/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Hits All of the Basics in Middle East but Can Do More

Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama did all the "right" things during his tour of the Middle East. It will help better define him in the eyes of Americans as "presidential material" and brush aside any concerns about whether he can or can't be a commander in chief. He can.

But doing the "right things" might not be enough to actually achieve Middle East peace. Obama needs to do more. He's capable of it.

During his tour of Israel and Palestine, for example, his schedule played into American domestic politics, reinforcing the belief that Obama will meet all the requirements of an American president, a solid supporter of Israel.

He went right down the checklist of things he needs to do as a candidate: Obama met with Israel's leaders and vowed continued, unwavering support for Israel's security.

He visited the Yad Vashem to show respect for the Holocaust survivors and placed a wreath there in presidential fashion. He didn't make any outrageous promises that he would have to "explain" or "clarify" on returning to the United States, as he did when he appeared before AIPAC, Israel's powerful lobbying organization, and said Jerusalem would be its undivided capitol and later, having to explain he meant "through negotiations."

He made the "empathy" visit with residents of Sdereot, the Israeli town targeted in Hamas Qassam missile strikes. He even went so far as to hammer Iran, offering tough-talk to minimize criticism of his "willing to talk to every nation" position which is the right thing to do, but becomes fodder for his critics.

On the other side, he did all the things that most American presidents are required to do during presidential elections. He minimized contact with the Palestinians, making no promises beyond supporting the vague notion of "a Palestinian State."

He could have visited Palestinian hotspots where the Wall imprisons whole towns, like Qalqaliya, or standing at Shepherd's Field near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Israeli settler growth is consuming Palestinian West Bank land.

It will help him secure the presidential nomination, but it won't do much to achieve peace. Palestinians can only hope that below the surface of "going through the right motions," Obama will push for a resolution of the conflict that in fact does achieve a Palestinian State.

What Obama needs to do as a president requires more courage. One way is to define clear a "vision for peace" that not only reinforces the American commitments to Israel's survival in a changing Middle East but that also shows more compassion for Palestinian rights. He needs to help take the American commitment to a Palestinian State and sow how he believes it can be a reality.

In the end, Israelis and Palestinians already know what the final peace accord looks like. They've seen it off-and-on. It was defined realistically at Taba after the Camp David Accords collapses in 2000. Even the touchy issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees can be resolved, with honesty on all sides. Most Palestinian refugees have said they will accept compensation as an alternative to returning to their lands and homes in Israel taken from them before the 1948 war, 60 years ago.

Until a Palestinian state is created, Israelis and Palestinians will remain at each other's throats and allow opportunities for extremist violence on both sides, like the recent attack this week in Jerusalem by an Arab Israeli construction worker, will continue.

For Obama and the future of Palestinian-Israeli peace, leadership will be defined by stepping past not through the difficult rhetoric that draws out the emotions of both sides, and by standing firmly in the a vision of what peace can be that both sides already embrace.

That is clearly something Obama can do once he becomes president.

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