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A Fresh Take On Mideast Policy

Beginning with his inauguration promise to seek a new way forward with the Muslim world based on mutual respect, U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a message to the world that international policy in general, and peace in the Middle East in particular, are a top priority for the new administration.

During his first few days in office, Mr. Obama announced the closure of the military prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay; made his first official telephone call as president to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; sent his Middle East envoy George Mitchell to the region; offered to begin a dialog with Iran; and granted his first television interview to the Dubai-based television news network al-Arabiya.

President Obama noted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be viewed as just one of a myriad of intertwined issues reaching far past the area of conflict.

“I do think it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what’s happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Obama said. “I think it is possible to see a Palestinian state ... that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people, that allows for trade with other countries, that allows the creation of businesses and commerce, so that people have a better life,” said President Obama.

Rebuilding the peace process will take time, a lot of patience and close cooperation among Quartet on the Middle East partners -- the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States. It will also test the willingness of Arab leaders to work together on broader issues facing the Middle East, and not least of all, the willingness of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to sit down and do some hard negotiating.

“Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that, instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table,” said President Obama.