This House believes Barack Obama is too weak to make peace in the Middle East

Monday April 26 2010
MOTION PASSED by 58% to 42%


This House believes Barack Obama is too weak to make peace in the Middle East

The Arab world remains deeply sceptical of US President Barack Obama's ability to achieve a Middle East peace settlement in an increasingly volatile region, according to a vote at the latest Doha Debates.

An audience of more than 300 voted by 58  to 42 percent  for the motion: "This House believes Barack Obama is too weak to make peace in the Middle East".

Although the four speakers agreed that President Obama was well-intentioned towards the Middle East, they and the audience were sharply divided over his ability to secure a peace deal.

Philip Weiss, a prominent US journalist and founder of a website focusing on Israeli-Palestinian issues, argued that President Obama was seeking "to show even-handedness after decades of being Israel's lawyer," but said he feared America was not ready for such a change in emphasis.

He believed "a lack of political space" hampered proper discussion of the issue in the US , adding that  "Obama's a strong man, but he's not strong enough to overcome these forces or to pull off a Middle East peace."

Ahmad Moussalli, a professor at the American University of Beirut specialising in Islamic movements, joined Weiss in supporting the motion. He said President Obama needed to" change America's image in the Arab world if he was to gain some leverage in the region"  - and this he would be unable to do.

Asked what would constitute a demonstration of strength by Obama, Moussalli replied to sustained applause: "If he told Israel...(unless) you stop your occupation activities I'll stop the financial aid I give you above the table and below the table."

Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist and former foreign correspondent, arguing against the motion, dismissed the notion that the President would use a cut in aid to place pressure on Israel. "It's too sensitive and it certainly won't happen in his first term.  He's serious (about getting a result) but he's also a politician."

Moussalli said Obama's failure to deliver on his "get-tough" tactic of putting an end to Israel's building of settlements on the occupied West Bank had resulted in renewed scepticism in the Arab world of Washington's ability to impose its will on Israel.

Cohen argued that far from being weak, Obama had become an "expert in overcoming obstacles. It is going to be tough, but the realities of the Palestinians are changing.  The president is determined to move forward step by step. The change is not going to come overnight."

Sami Abu Roza, a political analyst who has worked as an adviser to the Palestinian President's Office, praised President Obama for "reframing the conflict to one about land and freedom for the Palestinian people."

Speaking against the motion, Roza, said that "by pinpointing the settlement freeze, the President had also pinpointed the problem of de-colonisation" that was at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Watch online