Prospects for an effective U.S. policy on the Middle East have improved with the election of President Bush and his selection of the pragmatic James Baker as secretary of state, says former Utahn Omar M. Kader.

Kader, a former official of various U.S. Arab organizations, made the remark during a talk at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics Thursday. He also spoke in Provo.He said former Secretary of State George Shultz hated Yasser Arafat and turned that personal hatred into a petty, racist, anti-Palestinian foreign policy. "And then Ronald Reagan, in between naps, adopted it."

Kader said Shultz's approach to the Palestinian question was epitomized by a Mideast visit in which he ensconced himself at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem and said Palestinians should come there to meet him.

The equivalent would have been for him to go to a hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, and ask Nelson Mandela or others from the black opposition African National Congress to meet him there, Kader said.

"It was to us considered an act of racism, an act of bigotry."

But Kader said he's more optimistic now. "I think George Bush will make a good president, and I think that he's reasonable enough, if he has courage to follow his convictions, to do things in the Mideast."

Kader said Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization are as flexible as they've been any time in the past 40 years. Unfortunately, he said, "the present Israeli government is a fairly irrational, inflexible, rigid government, and I don't think it represents what it's going to take to get peace in the Mideast."

What's needed is a change from the longstanding vocabulary of confrontation to a more positive dialogue, one that allows for real negotiation, he said.

"The major barriers to peace in the Mideast right now are psychological."

Palestinians must become more understanding of the deep-seated reasons for the Israelis' fear of relinquishing any power, fears that are the effect not only of the Holocaust but of centuries of persecution.

And Israelis and American Jews need to abandon their knee-jerk name-calling and branding of Palestinians as terrorists, he said.

Kader said the United States must play a mediator role, rather than the role it has sometimes played of "dogmatically, irrationally supporting Israel" no matter what.