Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Prioritizing What is Noticed

If the first words on Guantanamo Bay passed my "first sentence test," the "first paragraph" on the Middle East may require more scrutiny. I am referring to the report that appeared on Al Jazeera English within the past hour:

Barack Obama, the US president, has pledged his support to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, as foreign policy took centre stage on his first full day in the White House.

Nabil Abu Rudeina, Abbas's spokesman, said Obama had told the Palestinian president on Wednesday that he would work to "achieve peace in the region and that he would exert all efforts to achieve this goal".

"President Obama also said his administration would work with President Abbas, as a partner, to build institutions, reconstruct and achieve peace," a statement said.

When viewed through that same lens of symbolism that European Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot applied to the Guantanamo decision, this recognition of Palestinian government, such as it is, is a powerful message, particularly if it has apparently preceded any "official" statements about Israel. Unfortunately, this particular symbolic act may be more problematic if it has allowed the legitimately elected government in Gaza to (in those words of Pierre Bourdieu that I seem to cite so frequently) "pass unnoticed," which may be the greatest source of risk in any of our foreign relations. This could well be the first significant test of Hillary Clinton's assertion that "We must build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries." It is hard to imagine a building process that would begin with an affront to Hamas, particularly in a time of an extremely fragile cease fire.

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