Many news outlets including ABC and CNN are reporting that Obama sat for an interview with the Arab channel Al Arabiya earlier today. His Middle-East Special Envoy George Mitchell is also heading to the region to begin talk with the Israelis and Palestinians.

This is good politics for Obama. I think this is part of his charm offensive that started last Tuesday to show a clear break from the Bush administration that essentially gave carte blanche to Israel and did not engage the so-called “Arab or Muslim Street” at all. Whether this translates into anything  substantial in the short term is anybody’s guess.  As CBS’s 60 Minutes reported last night, both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict are working hard to establish what George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon once called “facts on the ground” that would essentially kill the two-state solution. For Israelis, that means VIP roads, settlements, more settlements and the separation wall in the West Bank (called a “fence” by some political-correctness advocates). For Palestinians, that means procreation. Because having more children per family would generate what has been dubbed the “demographic advantage”, essentially destroying the notion of a Jewish State. Even Lybia’s Muammar Qaddafi was proposing a one-state solution in an op-ed in the NY Times on the week-end albeit with a complete right of return for the Palestinian refugees.

Some have wondered why Obama would want to meddle in this conflict right now when he has the US economy on the ropes and he needs some victories in congress  for some of his proposals. I say if there is a chance of a solution at all, it better be proposed now or the parties have to start working on it now. Any solution will be a difficult one, full of compromises on both sides. In addition, it will take time to be accepted and local leaders, Israelis and Palestinians will have to sell it to their constituencies and eventually implement it. So it is better to start now when Obama’s approval rating is high across the globe.

In addition to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there is the matter of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; there is the Mubarak dictatorhip in Egypt that lingers and fails to provide any support in any of the issues of the region when it could do so much; there is Iran flexing its muscles. And there is Syria, always an unavoidable piece because of its control of Lebanon and its support for other groups including Hamas.

Obama has his hands full. But goodwill, the kind Obama enjoys at the moment can go a long way towards opening even the most stubborn of hearts.

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