Symbolism counts for a lot. In a highly symbolic move, Barack Obama’s first President-to-President phone call was to Abu Mazen, a/k/a Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority:
In a flurry of telephone calls from the Oval Office, [Obama] reached out to leaders in the region and vowed to engage immediately in pursuit of a permanent Arab-Israeli settlement.
The spokesman for President Abbas revealed that Mr Obama had told the Palestinian leader that their conversation was his first with a foreign leader since taking office.
I don’t know what the symbolism of calling Abbas first means here. I didn’t hear any announcement from the White House in this regard, so the comment must have been to Abbas on the hush. My first reaction was to think this reflected some shift in emphasis in the Middle East. Why not make the first call to the Presidents of Israel or Egypt, or the King of Jordan? Why call the leader of an organization which never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity?
But then I thought about it some more, and maybe this is a good thing. There’s an old adage that when someone privately tells you it’s his or her first, you’re about to be …. well you know. When it comes to Obama’s “first” call to Abbas, let’s only hope the old adage holds true.