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American Muslims and Jews Consider Obama's Middle East Policy

Reaction to President Obama's Middle East Policy, outlined in his speech in Cairo earlier this month, has been mostly positive. At the center of his policy is a renewed effort to bring about a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state living peaceably alongside Israel. The Bush administration also endorsed a Palestinian state but was seen as favoring Israeli policies. For the moment, Israel has refused to agree to a total settlement freeze, demanded by Mr. Obama.

"The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security," President Obama said in his Cairo speech.

As the dust settles after President Obama's speech, American Muslim and Jewish communities are beginning to look at what his Middle East policy will mean.

At the National Mosque in Washington D.C., Imam Abdullah Khoug said reaction to the speech among Muslim Americans has been overwhelmingly positive. Now, they want to see action on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I have listened to many of the important people [in our community], and all of them are very happy. Most of them, they have great hopes of what is coming," Khoug said. "And I think that is the concern: what is coming now as practice."

American Jews are more divided.

At the editorial offices of Washington Jewish Week, editor Debra Rubin is positive but with a caveat.

She says she favors a two state solution but wants the Arab world to recognize Israel's historical rights on the land. She takes issue with what she sees as President Obama's statement that Israel's legitimacy comes from the Holocaust.

"And the recognition that the aspiration of a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied," President Obama said.

The Holocaust, Rubin says, played an important role in Israel's creation. But, she says, Jews had ties to the land for thousands of years before the Holocaust. And those ties must be the basis of Arab recognition, not the Holocaust.

"It kind of feeds into what goes on in the Arab world that it is not legitimate for the Jews to be there," Rubin states.

Other Jewish groups, like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), take issue with Mr. Obama's opposition to Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

"The United States does not accept the continued legitimacy of Israeli settlements," President Obama said. "The construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for those settlements to stop."

The ADL, influential during the Bush administration, says settlements are not illegal nor an impediment to peace.

Ori Nir is with the left leaning group Americans For Peace Now. It opposes Jewish settlement and is for a Palestinian state in most of the occupied territories.

Nir says his group is thrilled by President Obama's speech.

He says most American Jews and Israelis support the peace process as laid out in the 2003 roadmap. It requires a halt to terrorism on the Palestinian side in exchange for a two state solution. "Israelis do not like the settlements, they do not like the settlers. Most of them would like to see this whole issue removed from the agenda. It's an impediment," he said.

Nir says that with the new American policy, Jewish peace groups are gaining influence both with the president and on Capitol Hill. "We have a Congress that sees eye to eye with our agenda, has made it clear and is making it clear that it is not going to be a pawn in the hands of conservative pro-Israeli organizations or in the hand of the Israeli government to be pitted against the White House," Nir said.

But still, the U.S. must work with the government of Israel.

In a recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the goal of a Palestinian state. But he did not commit to a total settlement freeze and did not define the borders of a Palestinian state. He referred to the West Bank as "the land of our forefathers." One more reminder that a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians will not be be easy.