In a speech Monday before the Turkish parliament, U.S. President Barack Obama did not make do with a general outline of strategic interests that form the basis of U.S. ties with Turkey. The clear, unequivocal American message delivered from Turkey, the first Muslim state he visited, was aimed at all Arab and Islamic countries no less than Israel.
The message was one of conciliation, understanding, appreciation and a sincere desire for cooperation, not just with America's friends in the region but also with Iran, whom Obama invited "to take its rightful place in the community of nations." There is no doubt that the fresh breeze from the White House is a welcome change in the Middle East, a region where many observers viewed the Bush administration as a hostile entity.
This is a change that Israel must internalize, and it could not have come at a better time, just after the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu's new government. On the podium in Ankara, Obama, who committed to protect Israel's security, made clear his views on this security when he declared: "The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
Obama reminded those wishing to ignore the two-state vision that this goal was agreed on by both sides in the road map and at the Annapolis conference, and that one should not expect the U.S. administration to adopt the new Israeli position, which seeks to nullify the standing of the Annapolis summit.
But the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not the only thing on the agenda. In contrast to the position staked out by former president George W. Bush and in light of the emerging American-Syrian dialogue, Obama praised Turkish mediation efforts that yielded indirect talks between Israel and Syria. The Israeli government needs no further indication from the White House: Syria is a worthy partner.
These messages now await implementation. Intense American involvement in solving the conflict, based on principles already enunciated, will compel the Israeli government, the Palestinians and the Syrians to decide if they share Obama's vision or if they prefer to take the road of confrontation with the United States.
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