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A letter to Barack Obama.

Byline: Faris Al-Asr

PLEASE allow us to welcome you, President Obama. In the Middle East we have been awaiting your new leadership for some time, after an unfruitful eight years at the receiving end of the miscalculated policies or neglect of your predecessor. You began your term in office as promised, assembling a first-class foreign policy team and honoring your pledge to tackle the most pressing issues of the Middle East from day one.

As you know, the Middle East has always been central to the economic and political stability of the rest of the world. Throughout history, world powers have fought for the control of this region. Even before oil was discovered, the Middle East was the economic key to Asia, Africa or Europe for various invaders and occupiers. Arabs have had their share of would-be masters, but, without exception, Arab steadfastness and stubbornness has gotten the better of them.

The Romans, the Crusaders, the Persians, the British and the French all sought to dominate and redraw the political, religious and geographic lines of the Middle East. All were eventually sent packing, with Arab identity and stubbornness intact. Arabs are amongst the most hospitable peoples in the world, but they also have a very strong sense of identity and independence. Sometimes this has been to our detriment, cutting us off from many new ideas, but it has also allowed us to chart our own course through history and to maintain our Arab identity.

Our lands were the cradle of civilization. Our lands gave birth to the world's three main monotheistic religions and all their prophets. Farming, irrigation, science and mathematics all emerged from the Arab and Muslim Middle East and its dependencies. The Iraq that America has occupied since 2003 was the origin of many of these essential developments. From alchemy to algebra, the Arab world gave birth to modern medicine, astronomy and mathematics. Today Iraq lies destroyed and an antithesis of the center of learning it once was.

The people of Iraq have suffered a great deal, as have the people of Palestine. This has been a great sorrow to us all and we hope that you will help us in giving those people the life that they deserve.

Before the creation of the State of Israel, Arabs provided a safe haven to the Jews who were persecuted in other parts of the world. When they were expelled from Spain, Jews found protection in the Arab world. Jews were welcome in the Holy Land. It was Western anti-Semitism and the atrocious acts of Nazi Germany that pushed an entirely new problem on the Arab people to deal with. Had it not been for Western intervention, we would all have come to terms with each other and found a way of living together, rather than bearing the brunt of the Western-funded military options of the State of Israel.

Regardless of the turns we have been forced to take through history, in Beirut in 2002, 22 Arab countries committed to full diplomatic and trade relations with Israel in exchange for the implementation of UN resolutions, international law and US-brokered agreements. If you look back on the short American past, from the Clinton parameters of Taba in 2001 to the Annapolis principles of the Bush administration in 2007, the groundwork for a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has already been laid. There is no need to set off on a new search for solutions, for envoys to report after six months what the world already knows.

The resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has already been written and we hope that you will allow your excellent choice of Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, to tell you this without the need for any more reports or road maps. Ask any cab driver or layman familiar with the situation and he will spell out the same answer for you.

We were shocked and devastated by the murderous Israeli war on Gaza, taking hundreds of innocent lives for no justifiable reason or gain. Killing the innocent children of Palestine will never solve any of their problems. It is even more shameful to think that these tactics may help Ehud Barak's Labor Party in upcoming elections. If anyone can tell the Israelis that they must forsake their devastating military tactics if they want any chance of peace and security, then it is you.

America must finally play its role of honest broker for peace in the Middle East. This can only come about if America finally sticks to internationally-agreed principles and puts the necessary pressure on Israelis to live up to their many international commitments. Like a blind judge, you must make a pronouncement of where America stands and not allow either party to waver from the path of justice and equality, whatever the excuse. Everyone must know that America has finally come to a firm position that it will impose on both sides.

This is not about blaming one side or the other, but about setting the principles of just and peaceful conduct, and using all of your power to make sure that they are respected by both sides.

We will, of course, assist you in that task, and you will find that the Israelis also will respect your firm position and recognize you as a commander who can save them from themselves.

Once you have taken that step, the true road to confidence building and fairness will have been opened and we will all be a step closer to living under the reassuring light of peace and justice.

America must firmly declare where it stands and do everything in its power to help its Israeli and Arab friends fulfill their desire to live in peace with their neighbors. Together we will develop a stable, peaceful and prosperous Middle East that will also lead to world economic recovery.

- Faris Al-Asr is a Saudi businessman. He is based in Jeddah.

Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Jan 27, 2009
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