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Wishing Upon a Star

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Barack Obama speaking to AIPAC
"When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you."

With the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton over, clearing the path for Senator Barack Obama to secure the Democratic presidential nominee now is an opportune time to reflect and analyze statements made in the past week by Senator Obama and Senator John McCain regarding their proposed foreign policy.  Last week at the annual American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention, Sen. Obama took bold stances on his foreign policy, Israel, and the nature of his relationship with the Middle East. With regard to his stance on US-Israeli relations, Obama promise that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." He went on to propose the signing a memorandum of understanding to provide Israel with $30 billion in military aid over the next ten years to "ensure Israel's qualitative military advantage."

Make no mistake about it: this is not a case of singing to the choir in order to gain votes. This is a genuine bond that will only grow stronger with time. One only has to look at comments made by the notoriously pro-Western Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in reaction to Sen. Obama's stance to see the cause for concern: "We will not accept an independent Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital. I believe that case is clear. And the whole world knows that East Jerusalem, Arab Jerusalem, and Holy Jerusalem were occupied in 1967."

Barack Obama has made his stance on Palestine quite clear, criticizing the Bush administration for allowing Hamas to run as a political party (even though it was democratically elected). Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera on Thursday: "This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967. What really disappoints me is that someone like Barack Obama – who runs a campaign on the theme of change – when it comes to AIPAC and what's needed to be said differently about the Palestinian state, he fails. I say to Obama: please stop being more Israeli than the Israelis themselves."

Next Obama shifted his focus to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which he referred to as the greatest threat to Israel and stability in the region. Obama has been criticized by Sen. McCain as being soft on Iran, and for willing to meet with the Iranian president, which has been a great concern particularly to the powerful lobby known as AIPAC. Obama reaffirmed his stance, stating: "We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power. Everything."

In his address to AIPAC a few days prior to Sen. Obama, John McCain did his part to cement his stance on the Middle East. In an effort to showcase his staunch support for Israel, Sen. McCain proposed the privatization of sanctions by launching a worldwide divestment campaign against Iran. Essentially this entails "people, businesses, pension funds, and financial institutions across the world divest from companies doing business with Iran." Put another way, if John McCain were president, he would work outside the framework of the UN Security Council to influence a major country in the Middle East. Sound familiar?

Sen. McCain shifted little from the current administration's policy towards Palestine, citing Hamas as a hindrance to peace between Israel and Palestine. McCain stated that "we must also ensure that Israel's people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace. A peace process that places faith in terrorists can never end in peace. And we do no favors to the Palestinian people by conferring approval upon the terrorist syndicate that has seized power in Gaza."

An argument often made by supporters of Senator Obama is that McCain does not support withdrawal of troops from Iraq, while Obama does support a gradual withdrawal. There are a couple points worth mentioning here. In an interview with CNN after clinching the presidential nomination, Obama did not rule out the possibility that conditions on the ground could alter his policy of immediately beginning a troop withdrawal. An even more important issue is the possibility of the signing of a proposed "security pact" between the US and Iraq, which would allow 50 US military bases across Iraq, virtually solidifying a US military presence in Iraq indefinitely and, more importantly, without any possible legal repercussions for their activities, a scary thought indeed.

We should be deeply concerned by the statements made by both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain at the AIPAC conference. To reemphasize a few of the causes for concern, Obama declared that Jerusalem "must remain undivided." Both Senators McCain and Obama promised enormous sums of unconditional military aid to Israel. Both McCain and Obama continued to demand the exclusion of Hamas from the negotiating table. Both also supported isolation and possible military strikes on Iran.

Many make the argument that Obama is the lesser of two evils and hence should be the candidate that Muslims support; however, this past week has served to weaken that argument, slashing hopes that there will ever be real changes made in American foreign policy in the near future.

Author of this article: Mehdi Jafri
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