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Obama's "New Beginning": Delivering on the Issue of Settlements

The people have started to deliver. The Lebanese people have just voted for U.S.-backed 14th March coalition and prevented Hezbollah from taking over the parliament and controlling the government. In today's elections in Iran, CNN is reporting heavy voter turnout. The Iranian opposition rally stepped up its pace significantly in the last week. A 17-km human chain of opposition ran across the Capital Tehran and signs show that the Obama Effect is giving the moderate Moussavi a good push. Young voters, who abstained in the last election, are vowing to participate this time and many are determined to vote against Ahmadinejad. Women are also showing up in great numbers demanding freedom in a country where women are suppressed by a conservative regime. Ahmadinijad may not be ousted this time, but growing number of people are favoring moderation over extremism. The people are starting to do their part. But is President Obama doing his?

If we regard Obama's "New Beginning" speech as the preamble of an informal collective contract then each party, Muslims, Arabs, Israelis and Americans; must play its role and honor its commitments and obligations. The people's commitment is to support tolerance and vote against extremism. This has happened in Lebanon and there are positive signs coming out of Tehran. It is also happening in Israel, where hard line Netanyahu is re-thinking his position towards a Palestinian State as many Israelis seem to be supporting Obama's "New Beginning".

Just like Roosevelt's "New Deal" made it to history books, Obama's "New Beginning" is also making a historical ripple effect that has approached Arab and Persian shores. Now, it is time for Obama to make good on his promises. It is time he follows through on his words. People of this region may be too emotional and will give even an American President the benefit of the doubt. But they are not stupid. They paid in advance but they expect that Mr. Obama will deliver.

Quick and early dividends could be realized on the issue of the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. Obama confirmed his commitment to strongly oppose these illegal settlements. Now this is the time for him to deliver some actions to back his words. What we propose here is not big, but it is rather symbolic.

For years, the United States has placed very strict regulations on fund-raising activities related to financing Islamist or extremist organizations. Now it is time that Obama sends a bill to the Hill to block fundraising activities in the United States if the funds would be funneled to Israel to finance the building of illegal Israeli settlements. This does not affect other fund-raising activities going to Israel. Just the funding of illegal settlements which should be curbed. Currently, generous donations from U.S. citizens are used to build new illegal settlements, expand existing settlements and rebuild those settlements which are dismantled by the Israeli government. And to add a spoon of sugar to this bitter medicine, the United States could offer to assist Israel in developing urban engineering solutions to accommodate population growth in areas where Israel sees the problem most troubling.

Ahmadinejad might still be able to keep his seat. But even if he does, something has fundamentally changed. Ahmadinejad has announced that he wants to meet face-to-face with Obama and "debate" the issues standing between the two countries. Obama's "New Beginning" is unstoppable. The only one who can stall Obama's "New Beginning" is Obama himself; If he fails to follow through on his promises. Just like Bush failed to follow through on his commitment to democracy, crushing the hopes on the "Spring of Change", Obama could destroy his own "New Beginning" before it even begins to happen. The only thing Obama needs to do now is to nurse his own "New Beginning" by delivering even small packets of actions which somehow match the general direction of his promises before this historical window of opportunity vanishes.