ANALYSIS / Obama Put Arabs and Israel on an Equal Footing

Obama's speech in Cairo marks new chapter in trilateral relations between Israel, U.S. and Arab world.

On June 4, 2009 a new chapter began in the trilateral relations between the United States, the Arab world and Israel. One day before Israel marks the 42nd anniversary of the Six-Day War, U.S. President Barack Obama declared before the entire world, upon an Arab-Muslim stage, that the time has come to end the era of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories. Moreover, Obama announced that he was taking responsibility for doing so. The imbalance in the unequal U.S.-Israel-Arab triangle was replaced Thursday by an Isosceles triangle.

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Obama was careful to quote equally from the Koran, Talmud and Torah in order to emphasize that what is at stake is not only merely transient interests, but a deep moral approach as well as his own fundamental values and those of the American nation. He even compared the Palestinians to black slaves in the U.S. and effectively offered them the opportunity of following in Dr. Martin Luther King's footsteps and obtaining their rights without resorting to violence.

The equal treatment of Jews and Muslims touched upon more than the history of the peoples of the Middle East. Alongside the prominence assigned to the Holocaust and America's commitment to its longstanding alliance with Israel, Obama also grouped Israel with the rest of the region's nations, including Iran, with regard to the issue of nuclear arms. Without naming Israel, Obama made it clear he is not opposed to peaceful nuclear programs, but was firm in his insistence that all nations operate within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel has refused to sign the treaty, while Iran, who has signed it, does not abide by it.

Obama did not detail his plan for realizing the two-state solution and did not give a schedule. However, his unusual visit to Riyadh and Cairo, which came shortly after a visit to Turkey, another Muslim country, could be a source of disappointment for Israel, which had hoped that the economic crisis would distract Obama from foreign policy in general, and the Middle East in particular.

Obama's address placed the ball in Israel's court in a number of ways: First, it gave a clear and unequivocal endorsement of the two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state with a reasonable time frame. Arab sources claim that Obama has committed himself to ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict by November 2010 - the halfway mark of his term in office. Second, it gave a clear directive to Israel's government and military to ensure the cessation of settlement expansion and to prepare for dismantling illegal outposts. Third, it emphasized Israel's need to open the Gaza border crossings to a wide range of supplies and make good on its promise to dismantle West Bank checkpoints.