Abdel bari Atwan: Fine words, but the real test is to come

President Barack Obama's speech was impressive by any standard but I was disappointed in the fundamentals.

Addressing the Muslim people, he displayed an understanding not only of Islam but also of our emotional make-up. Muslims respect sincerity and Obama delivered on both accounts, his rhetorical genius reminding one of a latter-day Martin Luther King.

His use of Koranic quotations and his understanding of Islam was compelling – I even wondered if he was about to declare himself converted or that he was returning to his Islamic roots. The analogies he drew between Islam, Christianity and Judaism were apposite: all three emphasise peace and harmonious co-existence, for which much of the Arab world longs.

But for all his fine – very fine – words, Obama offered nothing new in terms of the reality on the ground. There was no pledge to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and no apology, let alone compensation, to the people of Iraq. If Obama genuinely seeks reconciliation, he cannot stop short of such an apology.

While I, and all Palestinians, rejoice in his condemnation of the Israeli settlement programme, the only problem remains – how to implement their dismantling.

Obama declared that the two-state solution was the only solution, but even George Bush said this. The enduring problem is how to achieve it.

There was no call for an imminent Arab-Israeli peace conference, no call for sanctions against Israel or for calling it to account legally for its war on Gaza. I regret that Obama could not pledge to press Israel – with sanctions if need be – to lift the economic and humanitarian blockade of Gaza.

The days of the US as an international power-broker in the Middle East must surely be numbered. Ultimately, armies accomplish nothing. US troops will never sort out the region's problems. The time has come to withdraw and let it sort out it's own affairs. Let President Obama employ his rhetoric in championing peace and justice for the oppressed.

The writer is the editor in chief of Al Quds Al-Arabi