Nothing has changed in this equation since Bill Clinton failed to deliver peace in late 2000. Many have criticised President Bush for shunning the issue - and we are confident that President Obama, the author of The Audacity of Hope, will try to succeed where Clinton and Bush failed. What could be more audacious than the hope of a peace that has eluded everyone for so long?
What we fear is neither a generic commitment to peace nor an active engagement in pursuing it. Instead, that hope may quickly cross the boundary into the realm of illusion.
President Obama should know that it is not the elusiveness of Arab-Israeli peace that must concern us, but rather the strength and vitality of radical Islam as a force of change. As in the '60s, the Middle East is being shaken by revolutionary fervour. The aspiration is to re-establish a lost supremacy, then for the Arab nation, now for Islam. Then, secular pan-Arab nationalism promised a way out of backwardness at home and weakness abroad. Today, radical Islam offers much the same. Radicals read regional events as the incontrovertible proof of their ascendancy and the decline of their enemies - America and Israel. The Lebanon war of 2006, Hamas's ascent in Gaza and Israel's unilateral withdrawal are all seen as the harbingers of the Jewish state's collapse. First and foremost, however, these events are perceived as a sign that Israel has lost its ability to fight back. The situation in Iraq is viewed as a sign of American weakness. And the seemingly unstoppable rise of Iran in its nuclear quest is viewed as evidence that American hegemony in the Middle East is waning. If all of this is true, then radical Islam is winning. It will be the adversary of Mr Obama for years to come. He can afford no illusions on this matter. If free and fair elections were held across the region today, moderate, liberal-minded and freedom-loving forces would stand no chance of winning. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not the cause of this phenomenon: it is its hostage.
Regional rulers are beholden to the rhetoric of radicals, and moderates are a minority. Neither will take bold action. They will occasionally do what they can to help and frequently what they must to survive, but never join the West to achieve common goals. The result is that there is little scope for changing the course of events for outsiders - even the US president.