The Obama Promise Tracker is an electronic tool with which to follow all the promises the new President has made – 895 by its inventor Todd Smith’s count.
Of these 895 promises, made between February 10 2007 — the day he announced his candidacy — and November 4 — the day he was announced President-elect — 14 are tagged under “Foreign Policy, Israel”.
The first, “I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security”, is a commitment hard to define. Obama also promised to make the peace process “a key diplomatic priority”. This is easier to check, and one Obama is evidently serious about. Proof: the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy to the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Mitchell is not new to this contentious conflict. He was here eight years ago, appointed by President Bill Clinton, to report on the raging second intifada. The report was not very helpful. The intifada continued. One of his recommended measures was not well received by the Israeli government: to halt development in the settlements, including measures taken to meet the needs of “natural growth”.
“We can’t ask people not to have children. We can’t ask the children not to live with their families,” Israeli opponents claimed.
Mitchell is coming back to a different Middle East. In the past eight years Yasir Arafat died, the intifada was defeated, Israel evacuated Gaza and Hamas was elected. Mitchell will find a Palestinian leader who is willing but incapable and a new Israeli government that needs time to organise. A realistic, modest approach will have to be formulated. One thing can ignite some friction: the man who wanted a total settlement freeze cannot be expected to let Israel off on illegal outposts. The promise that Israel made to evacuate them will have to be executed. This might be possible for a government of the right-centre (more likely) or centre-left (less so, according to polls). It will be very difficult for a government of the right, headed by Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu and supported by right-wing parties only. Netanyahu knows that for his own good, he needs Labour, Kadima or both as part of his coalition.
But for most Israelis, Obama’s commitment will not be tested in Palestine, but rather in Iran. Smith’s Promise Tracker notes three promises: “incentives” for Iran to abandon its nuclear programme; a promise to “tighten sanctions”; and “direct diplomacy, without preconditions”. This will be enough only if Iran agrees.
Obama has not always been consistent regarding Iran. Earlier this week, I sent Smith a quote from my May 2007 interview with Obama: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to engage in full-scale diplomatic discussions without some progress or some indication of good faith on the part of the Iranians,” the then senator said. “I do think the US needs to send a signal to Iran that if they change their behaviour that they have avenues available to them for improved international relations.”
This assertion somewhat contradicts his later promise for unconditional high-level talks. Smith will add the quote to the next edition of the Obama Promise Tracker. This will present a dilemma to those following these promises: do they want the first promise to materialise, or the second?