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DAVOS, Switzerland — In Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot,” Godot never actually shows up. The fear in the world beyond America’s shores was that waiting for Obama might mean that the Obama of their hopes would never actually arrive.
The World Economic Forum, which gathers together leaders from 90 countries, is as good a place as any to judge the world’s mood. And if conversations in the corridors here are any indication, the world has taken a big sigh of relief that perhaps their Godot is actually here.
Obama’s immediate moves to close down Guantanamo, his calls to Middle East leaders, and his spectacular outreach to Muslims, even daring to refer to his Muslim connections — which was the love that dared not speak its name in the election campaign — has deeply impressed delegates here.
“It’s hard to believe,” said an Arab delegate.
“Obama is the game changer,” said an Australian.
Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp of Holland, who is a leader in bringing Islam and the West together, said that Obama had hit "exactly the right tone" in his outreach to Muslims.
He said that Obama's "multiple indentities," a Christian with a Muslim background, a white mother and a black father, was an advantage in a world where extremists sought to drive people apart from one another.
For those keenly attuned to Middle East problems, a key Obama phrase was returning to the “same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world 20 or 30 years ago.” Thirty years ago, 1979, produced a U.S.-brokered peace between Egypt and Israel which was a mighty breakthrough in the 100 year war between Jews and Arabs in the region.
Obama was quick to affirm America’s alliance with Israel, and Arabs accept that. But Arabs , Europeans and some Israelis, too, hope that the U.S. can play an honest broker role, as did Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. The hope is that the joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel that was George W. Bush’s policy, the never-say-no-to-anything days, might finally be over.
George W. Bush may have called for a two-state solution, but he will be remembered more for giving Israel a green light to attack Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in the administration’s final days — green lights that went far beyond, in the view of many delegates here, Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense.