President Barack Obama has made good on his promise to "hit the ground running," with his new Middle East envoy George C. Mitchell announcing he will visit the region "as soon as possible" to get Palestinian Authority (PA)-Israeli negotiations on track. Aides to Mitchell said he will arrive in the region in less than two weeks.
President Obama has been critical of the Bush administration for "doing too little too late" and sent a clear message to Israel and the PA to be prepared for more direct American intervention.
"It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors," President Obama said Thursday.
He added, "Hamas must end its rocket fire [and] the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime so that Hamas cannot rearm."
President Obama did not make any references to specific issues that divide Israel and the PA, which immediately criticized him. "The policies are the same," said Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but he added that "Obama signaled early engagement and an energetic approach."
The new president reiterated the oft-repeated demand that Hamas renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, based in Beirut, told Al-Jazeera television that the Obama government will fail in the Middle East if it does not change American policies.
PA officials are happy with the appointment of Mitchell, who recommended in 2001 that Israel end Jewish development in Judea and Samaria.
Mitchell is known for negotiating peace in Northern Ireland and commented that despite the complex situation in the Middle East, "There is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended."
President Obama, during his first visit to the State Department with its new director Hillary Clinton, launched a scathing attack on Hamas, stating that "for years Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people."
He said he will work to open up Gaza crossings, including the border at Rafiah, and will support another international donors conference scheduled to meet in Egypt.
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