Sami Moubayed At one point in 2003, US President Bush asked Rice what the single most difficult obstacle was to peace in the Middle East. Without much thought, the US Secretary snapped, Yasser Arafat. Today, nearly eight years later, Arafat is long dead and Bush is in retirement, but peace is still far from achieved. Bush and Rice seemed to have got it all wrong; the root of the problem was land and justice for the Palestinians, and not Arafat or Hamas. This, among others, explains why the Arab world held its breath when Obama was sworn in as US President in 2009, taking an oath to his full name, 'Barack Hussain Obama. High hopes were pinned on the new leader, whom some Arabs affectionately called 'Abu Hussain. They mistakenly felt that with an Arabic middle name, a Muslim grandmother, and clear sympathy for the Palestinians, Obama simply couldnt go wrong. The US President gave his first interview in office not to an American network, but to an Arab one - Al Arabiya - thereby reaching out to the Arab populace, and chose Turkey in the Muslim world, as his first destination. He appointed the respected George Mitchell as ME envoy, and Hillary Clinton, who had been previously perceived during her days as First Lady, as being supportive of various Arab causes, as Secretary of State. Then came the historic speech in Cairo that summer, where Obama promised to pursue Palestinian statehood and came close to saying: Read my lips: no new colonies In todays world, however, the three American peacemakers, Obama, Clinton and Mitchell, have lost all the stamina that came with them two years ago and are currently viewed with a grain of salt throughout the ME. This is mainly because they have failed to apply real pressure on Israel, to change course vis--vis the peace process: lifting the siege of Gaza or imposing a sustainable freeze on colonies in the West Bank. For Obama, the U-turn occurred last March when Israel announced, while hosting US Vice President Biden, that it will not halt colony construction in the occupied West Bank. Israel was making it clear that it considered all of what Obama said in Cairo to be pure rubbish, so long as it had not been first cleared by Tel Aviv. The Arab world grinned; first it was a US President unwilling to deliver; now it was one unable to put his words into action. A closer look at all of what has been achieved since Jan 2009 shows two harsh realities. One is that there is very little difference, when it comes to substance, between Mitchell, Clinton and Obama, because all of them still refuse to come down too hard on Israel. Ask anybody familiar with these figures and you will hear the same routine story: Obama is eager but unwilling; Clinton is shifting to an increasingly pro-Israeli line, thanks to a divided and corrupt Palestinian leadership, while Mitchell follows orders and has no real agenda or style of his own. The second reality is: at face value these three peacemakers may seem the exact opposite of the Bush team, but a closer look shows that in reality when it comes to Israel, they are not much different. Last April, Obama said that resolving the ME conflict was a vital national security interest of the US. This conflict, he added, was costing us significantly in terms of blood and treasure. He drew a link between the conflict and safety of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, echoing words spoken earlier in a congressional testimony by General Petraeus. His words seemed to match what had been said during the Bush years, namely that peace in the ME was a strategic interest to the US. Rice back then said: The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalise even normal people. If peace is achieved, she seemed to be saying, then angry groups and individuals would automatically deradicalise, leaving Iran an outcast in a peaceful region. These words, of course, were spoken in early Nov 2007, while the Bush team was frantically trying to put together the Annapolis Peace Conference. Obama was saying it ahead of indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis, held under his auspices last September. Jewish voters in the US, under both former and current presidents, are unimpressed with linking the peace process to a package of other issues that include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have made sure that the issue of colonies in the West Bank is never linked to the lives of US soldiers on the battlefield. Bush understood the message immediately, turning completely quiet on Middle East peace from Annapolis until he left office in early 2009. Clinton seems to have learned the lesson, but Obama is apparently, still trying to prove otherwise. - Gulf News