Arab Confidence in Obama Eroding

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BEIRUT - Despite the U.S. administration's exceptionally harsh rhetoric against Israel over the past two weeks, President Barack Obama said America's relationship with the Jewish state was not in crisis.

"Israel is one of our closest allies," Obama told Fox News on Wednesday night. "The Israeli people have a special bond and it's not going to go away," he said.

Those kinds of remarks make Arab League member nations wary of whether Obama will back their agenda in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arab leaders were pleased with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lengthy phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last Friday, in which she harshly criticized plans for new housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem. She called the decision "insulting" and hinted that U.S. military support could be affected.

When U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, poised to mediate third-party talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, cancelled his trip to the region, they were also encouraged.  

But Clinton's reaffirmation of the "close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people" a few days later, followed by Mitchell's announcement that the cancellation was due to logistical issues, fueled Arab concerns of whether the U.S. will pressure Israel to meet their demands.

Eroding confidence in Obama might also jeopardize U.S. plans to unite Arab nations against Iran in an attempt to isolate the Islamic Republic.

Last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad dismissed the Obama administration's call to distance himself from longtime ally and close personal friend, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Paul Salem, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, said Arab leaders would be disinclined to back U.S. strategies against Iran if they "get nothing in return."

"Arabs consider what is taking place now as a summer cloud or a storm in a tea cup," Jordanian political analyst Oreib Rentawi told The Associated Press.

An editorial in Egypt's al-Gomhuria newspaper stated that Israel would be unlikely to face any repercussions for its actions.

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AP contributed to this report.

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