- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Many people in the Arab world wasted little time before criticizing President-elect Barack Obama for choosing Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff.

Before those who find fault with the president-elect’s new appointment, let me offer the following advice: Take a deep breath and give the next American president and his team the benefit of the doubt.

True, the White House chief of staff wields enormous power simply because of the fact that he has the president’s ear, unlimited access to the president and manages the president’s most precious asset, his time.

The chief of staff also decides who does and does not have access to the Oval Office. However, he does not have any political power per se and does not enact policy.

Can he influence the president? Of course. But ultimately, it is the president who decides.

Mr. Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States heralds a new dawn in global politics. His presence in the White House will bring a new momentum to both domestic and international politics.

An Obama administration will bring hope that eight years of President Bush’s incoherent policies can be rectified, and that policies that have proven to be particularly detrimental to countries of the Middle East will be re-examined, re-assessed and changed whenever possible.

However, the new American president, no matter how energized he might be, can only accomplish so much on his own. Unless the parties concerned roll up their sleeves and help Mr. Obama help them, change is never likely to occur; instead stagnation will emerge as the victor.

And just as Americans should put party politics aside in the greater interests of the country and work together to bring the United States out of its financial crisis and get the economy back on track, so too must the parties involved in the Middle East conflict put aside their premature apprehensions and help Mr. Obama help them bring peace to the region.

After more than six decades of conflict, bringing peace to the region must remain the top priority.

If indeed Mr. Emanuel emerges as someone who is openly anti-Arab and “a Zionist agent,” there will be ample time to resort to criticism later. Let’s give Mr. Obama - and his staff - some breathing room.

Less than a week after his victory, a few Arab journalists already were spouting verbal diarrhea, saying that it is not surprising that Mr. Obama’s advisers will include “extremist Zionists.”

One journalist claims that Mr. Emanuel is an officer in the Israeli external intelligence service, the Mossad, and that he served in the Israeli army.

Let’s avoid shooting from the hip. If there is proof of those accusations, produce them. If not, keep your peace.

Making unjustified accusations serves no cause, except to promote more chaos, more animosity and more hatred. Making accusations is easy. Sustaining them is harder.

Here are some facts that may be little known to some of those critics:

To work in the White House (as in any sensitive government office) applicants undergo very thorough background investigation by the U.S. government. Security clearance to the White House can sometimes take months.

So how is it that these critics have access to information that Mr. Emanuel is a Mossad agent when the FBI does not? Get real.

That Mr. Emanuel served in the Israeli army? That part is true. So what?

Mr. Emanuel volunteered to serve as a civilian in the Israeli army repairing brakes on trucks in 1990-91 during the first Gulf War after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and tried to bring Israel into the conflict by launching several Scud rockets at Israel. He was not a combatant. At the time the United States reacted by dispatching Patriot antimissile batteries from its European command.

Those who worked with Mr. Emanuel in the Clinton White House say that his loyalty to the president during the Middle East peace talks at the Wye River in Maryland was immeasurable. He made members of the Israeli delegation very nervous because he understands Hebrew and reported to Mr. Clinton everything that was being said.

This is what Haaretz had to say: “In the tense talks with the Palestinians at Wye Plantation in 1998, the Israeli team headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was especially wary of one of President Bill Clinton’s aides - Rahm Emanuel. His fluent Hebrew, his instinctive grasp of the ‘Israeli’ mind-set, and above all his complete loyalty to his boss made the Israelis afraid to talk near him.”

And as to the accusations that his father was a member of the Irgun? True. But if one was to begin digging into the past of Arab Americans and Jewish Americans, how many would be found to have ties to less than orthodox organizations?

So let’s not go there. What does it matter what he did? Let us focus on what he will do.

The Obama presidency offers a new page for the Arab world. It would not benefit the Arabs or the Muslims to get off on the wrong foot with the administration.

Arab governments have been notorious in the past for missing opportunities. This election offers the Arab world a chance for a fresh start. Reverting to petty - and unfounded - accusation will accomplish nothing.

The Arab world gets another chance with Mr. Obama’s election. Can they show the courage and maturity of leadership needed to carry the Arab world forward?

Or will it be business as usual?

• Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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