Some Middle East advice for Obama

Barack Obama should make a statement on Arab-Israeli peace in his inaugural speech or first State of the Union message and send an envoy  during his first couple months to take the temperature of the players in the region. Those are former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Sam Lewis’ suggestions to the president-elect on how to approach the Middle East in his first couple months in office.

In a meeting with a group of reporters on Tuesday, Lewis, a senior policy adviser to the dovish Israel Policy Forum, noted that with Israeli elections scheduled for February, there is not much Obama can do until a new government is formed, likely sometime in March. But he can address the issue’s importance in a prominent way, and send "someone close to the president" to the region, not with an "Obama plan"but just for an "exchange of views in key capitals" like Amman, Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh and Jerusalem.

Lewis also suggested sending a U.S. ambassador back to Syria because he believes that right now, Israeli-Syrian talks have a better chance of success than the Israeli-Palestinian meetings. Lewis and Tom Dine, also an IPF senior policy adviser as well as a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have been two of eight U.S. participants in "Track II"  working group talks between Syrians and Americans over the last year organized by the non-governmental organization Search for Common Ground. The leader of the Syrian group in those talks is international lawyer Riad Daoudi, who Dine noted is also part oftalks going on right now between Israelis and Syrians under the auspices of Turkey.

Dine and Lewis said they’ve been told by Syrians that representatives of the two countries have reached agreements on contentious issues such as borders and water, and are eager for U.S. involvement.

"The stars are aligned only if the U.S. is prepared to be an active mediator," said Lewis, noting that the United States must provide security guarantees and other types of assurances and incentives for both sides. "A lot depends on how involved we are."

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