Barack Obama faces tough task to please Arabs & Jews on Mideast
BY MICHAEL SAUL
DAILY NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
Tuesday, July 22nd 2008, 2:07 AM
Barack Obama sets out Tuesday on the most politically perilous part of his foreign trip – to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, where his every word will be scrutinized by Jewish and Arab voters back home.
Obama’s recent declaration that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel – and his immediate back-pedal – created confusion over the candidate’s stance on the bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. Jewish and Arab community leaders told the Daily News Monday that Obama has a “second chance” to define himself on Middle East policy.
After leaving Iraq, Obama heads first to Jordan before reaching Israel Tuesday.
Obama told pro-Israeli lobbyists last month that Jerusalem must “remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.” He and his campaign quickly retreated, saying Jerusalem’s final status was up to the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate.
Nathan Diament, public affairs director for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said Obama “blew it” with that speech. The controversy “raises the magnification of the microscope” on his trip “because people are going to be watching even more closely,” he said.
“What people in our community are looking for – to put it in very Jewish terms – is to try to get a better sense of what’s in Obama’s kishkes, what’s in his gut,” Diament said. “People will be watching when he’s on the ground there more for the body language than sound bites.”
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and an Obama supporter, said Obama should avoid creating “any more winces on either side.”
“These are treacherous waters,” Zogby said. “The question is: Can you go and give enough assurances on the Arab side and enough assurances on the Israeli side that you don’t end up exciting one of the sides and inciting the other.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), who is strongly leaning toward Republican John McCain, predicted Obama will lose Jewish votes. “What does he really stand for? What does he really believe?” Hikind asked.
Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News in Michigan, said Obama’s June speech was a “pander to the Israeli lobby.”