In the Middle East, the Obama Administration is learning to listen

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova) 

The U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has begun his first tour of the region.

His itinerary includes Israel and Ramallah, the administrative capital of Palestine, controlled by Mahmoud Abbas. It also includes visits to Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, as well as to two European capitals - Paris and London - the most active players in Middle East settlement. The only missing elements are a visit to Moscow and a meeting with Hamas representatives (Mitchell is pointedly ignoring Gaza where this movement has power). Regarding Moscow, it is unlikely that it was deliberately dropped from the itinerary, but it is a fact that Moscow is still not one of the U.S. priority partners for Middle East discussions.

The main intrigue and dilemma for the new American administration in the Middle East is whether to conduct a dialogue with Hamas or not. The Bush Administration demonstrably rejected Hamas after this movement won parliamentary elections in 2006, which contributed much to the tensions in the far from simple inter-Palestinian relations. The result was a final split between Hamas and Fatah, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. How Obama will move is not yet clear.

Obama said that America was committed to Israel's security and would always support its right to self-defense. He stressed that for many years Hamas had fired rockets at Israel's innocent citizens. This was followed by a list of standard demands to Islamists - denunciation of violence, recognition of Israel's right to existence, and acknowledgement of all earlier Palestinian-Israeli peace agreements. The demands to the Israelis included a withdrawal of troops from the Gaza Strip and the opening of a checkpoint between the strip and the outside world. Also, Obama spoke in favor of the Abbas-controlled government.

Unsurprisingly, these remarks have produced a negative response from Hamas. Obama is no different from Bush, the Islamists said. This is an obvious, though hasty, conclusion. On the day his envoy departed, Obama gave his first interview to a foreign TV channel. This honor was granted to the Arabic television station Al Arabiya. In his interview Obama emphasized that Mitchell was going to the region "to listen" and then report back. According to the new White House occupant, dictate, rather than a desire to listen, has too often dominated the U.S. approach to global issues.

In relation to the Middle East, it can be said that if Obama wanted to find a person able to listen, Senator Mitchell was the best choice. It is not by hearsay that he knows the Middle East. In 2001, he drafted a plan to reconcile the sides, which later was reworked and included with other peace initiatives in the "road map" for Palestinian-Israeli settlement. The plan got the approval of both parties to the conflict. However, like all the other ideas for settlement in the region, it was never implemented.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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