January 27, 2009
Posted: 1530 GMT
Listening to President barack Obama's interview on satellite news channel Al-Arabya, I was reminded of something Hisham Melhem – the man who conducted the one-on-one – told me a few weeks: "It is going to be very difficult for Mideast leaders to demonize someone whose full name is Barack Hussein Obama."
Indeed, the tone was conciliatory and President Obama made sure to mention the fact that he'd lived in a Muslim country and that members of his family are Muslim. A hand extended to the region. An "I understand you" from the Commander-in-Chief.
Though in recent polls, a majority of people in the Mideast do not believe anything will change with an Obama presidency, could a softer tone alone be a game-changer?
After eight years of a Bush presidency and an Iraq war that has made virulent anti-Americanism the norm in the Arab world, Barack Obama's statement that he has advised his Mideast envoy George Mitchell to "start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating" is a rhetorical leap that marks a clean break with the past.
But here is the wider question: how to achieve true, lasting peace, without involving all actors of the Mideast tragedy in the discussions?
Mister Obama's peace envoy is in the region right now speaking with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian and Israeli leaders, but will not stop in Syria and will not meet Hamas officials.
The issue here is not whether Hamas is legitimate or popular, but how any deal can hold as a result of negotiations conducted without them.
Since Egypt has acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas in past agreements, it's not inconceivable that messages will somehow be relayed to the group through Cairo.
Would this be like trying to achieve peace in Northern Ireland by not involving the IRA's political wing? It's a question worth asking.
Meanwhile, the process will be slow: president Obama himself has lowered expectations ("it's going to be difficult",) violence is flaring up again in gaza and nothing tangible is expected to happen before Israelis select a new Prime Minister as a result of elections next month.
What are your thoughts on President Obama's interview on Al Arabya?
Thanks to all for commenting!