I was in the studios of al-Jazeera – the Qatar satellite channel so democratic in the eyes of Colin Powell that Bush later wanted to bomb it – while Barack Obama was performing his theatricals in the Middle East. “Theatre” is what I called it on air while the anchor desperately tried to suck some Arab hope out of the whole ridiculous fandango. No such luck, I told him. It isn’t going to make the slightest difference to the Arabs whether Obama or McCain wins.
Westerners believe that Obama appeals to the Arabs because of his middle name or because he’s black. Untrue. They like him – or liked him – because he grew up poor. Like them, he understood – or rather, they thought he understood – what oppression was about. But they quickly found out where they stood in the food chain. Forty-five minutes in Ramallah vs 24 hours in Israel was the Obama equation. Yes, I know the old saw. Every US presidential candidate has to make the pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall, to Yad Vashem, to some Israeli town or village that has taken casualties (albeit minuscule in comparison to those visited upon the Palestinians), to talk about Israel’s security, etc. That doesn’t mean, we are always told, that Israel is going to have it easy once the US president is elected. Wrong. Israel is going to have it easy. Because no sooner is he elected than he will be enmeshed in the Middle East tragedy and be forced to take sides – Israel’s, of course – and then it will be time for the next election, so the president’s hands will be tied again and he’ll be talking about Israel’s security (rather than Palestinian security) and we’ll be back on the same old itinerary.