President Obama has made gestures towards the Middle East that must not generate unrealistic expectations. A day after being sworn in he called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledging support to fragile Gaza ceasefire. He subsequently appointed George Mitchell his special envoy for the region and despatched him for talks "aimed at keeping alive a fragile Gaza ceasefire and reviving peace negotiations." Interestingly while the American envoy was still in the region, Israel launched another air attack in Gaza in violation of the ceasefire and Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered the enclave. The attack came after an Israeli soldier was killed in a bomb blast, not inside Gaza, but on the Israeli side of the border. There are some interesting aspects of Obama's overtures. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the purpose of Mitchell's visit is to consult with regional leaders on a range of issues, including trying to contain smuggling into Gaza to prevent the rearming of Hamas. In other words, it is not Israel which needs to be tamed but the Palestinians who rely on essential items of daily use and small arms smuggled through tunnels on account of the more than a year long Israeli blockade. While Israel receives over $4 billion of weapons aid from the US every year, Palestinians are not to be allowed to buy small arms for self-defence. This would indicate the continuation of the US policy in the region devised in early 60's, fine tuned in the Nixon era and continued under every American president, irrespective of party affiliation. Obama has already promised a "new approach" towards Iran. New US envoy to the UN Susan Rice has stated that it would be "vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy." But the talks being promised are to be "tough" offering Iran economic incentives to end its nuclear programme or face tougher sanctions. Thus any discussion on Israel's nuclear arsenal remains a taboo as usual while Iran which feels threatened like other countries in the region from the Zionist state's shamefacedly belligerent policies is supposed to have no business developing an atomic bomb. It is a joke to call this "a new policy." This confirms the notion that Obama continues like his predecessors to look at Israel as a "strategic asset "in the Middle East acting as what Noam Chomsky once called "an attack dog" and "our local cop on the beat" in the oil rich region that contains world's largest and cheapest reserves. Israel is also tasked with acting as Washington's proxy to put down any radical movement that might be emanating from the disgruntled Arab street against the docile and pro-US government leaders. The Zionist state is also supposed to act as a willing tool to execute any dirty work assigned to it by the US in countries as far as Argentine and Chile and Zaire and Uganda, establishing and supporting regimes that Washington would not like to be seen to be helping. The role fixed by the Nixon Doctrine for Israel in the Middle East is to act as the reliable "guardian of the gulf." For this a country with a population less than that of Lahore has for decades been the topmost beneficiary of the American aid which has mostly been used to develop illegal settlements, launch deadly military operations against the Palestinian civilian population and for military actions in Lebanon. There have been many possibilities since 1971 for a peaceful political settlement in the Middle East. As Chomsky has put it: "The US has consistently blocked all of them because they would require that Israel be a peaceful member of a region in which relations are conducted by diplomacy rather than violence and we haven't accepted that. That won't be the role we want Israel to play." Consequently every meaningful peace plan offered by the European countries, Palestinian leaders and Arab states has been sabotaged by the US in favour of an Orwellian "peace process" including the so-called "roadmap for peace." The latest casualty is the comprehensive Arab peace initiative first propounded by then Crown Prince Abdullah at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League in 2002 and re-endorsed at the Riyadh Summit in 2007. The initiative attempts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and normalise relations between the entire Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a withdrawal from the occupied territories and a "just settlement" of the Palestinian refugee crisis. The proposals were declared by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who attended the summit "one of the pillars of the peace process." It was also hailed by EU foreign policy leader Javier Solana who said the EU supported it. Talking to Mahmoud Abbas in July 2008 Obama too had supported the initiative saying: "The Israelis would be crazy not to accept this initiative. It would give them peace with the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco." It is time the new US administration pressurise Israel to agree to the Arab proposals which are the barest minimum as far as Palestinians are concerned. Would Obama press Israel to accept the initiative? Unfortunately political leaders in the US and Israel say one thing when they are not in power, or like Ehud Olmert are about to leave the office, and do exactly the opposite when they are in a position to change the course of events. E-mail: