Monday, February 14, 2011

Middle East peace process is dead

During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama did not talk much about the problems of the Middle East. So, little was known regarding his vision for the region.
But because he had a team of advisers that included some intellectuals from the Clinton school, many thought that he was inclined to follow former US President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, especially his pragmatic approach to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Clinton, relying on his intellectual capacity to absorb issues and see things in their perspective, saw the futility of appeasing the Jewish lobby in the US by leaning too much on the side of Israel when trying to mediate in that conflict. Although he addressed the issue more aggressively only later in his tenure, he personally engaged in the Middle East peace process by bringing the two conflicting parties to the negotiating table and moderating the talks himself.

Even though in his last minute efforts he failed to clinch a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, his genuine desire and commitment to the mission of ending Israeli occupation of Palestine was never in doubt.

Upon assuming office, President Obama spelled out his foreign policy and showed seriousness on the Palestinian question by evolving a strategy for reviving the long-stalled peace process. He immediately appointed George Mitchell, as his Middle East envoy. (The man has an unquestionably wide knowledge and experience about the complexities of the conflict in the region).

However, some observers saw his mission as a non-starter and this for two basic reasons. First, in Israel there was a stubborn, ultra-rightist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who does not believe in Palestinian statehood. And, secondly, Palestine was geo-politically split: the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on one side, and the Gaza Strip controlled by Ismail Aniyeh’s Islamist Hamas Movement, on the other.

In such a situation it was unimaginable that the Palestinians would have credible talks with Israel that focused on the goal of a “two-state solution”.

President Obama certainly knows that these two factors were prohibitive in his endeavours to tackle the Palestinian question. But he has decided to bury his head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

He has had rough encounters with Netanyahu over the Jewish settlements issue in which the prime minister emerged “victorious”.  Now, the peace process is “dead”; and Israel is comfortable with the status quo of occupation and settlement expansion. Netanyahu will now cash in on the recent turbulent events in Egypt where a puppet of the Americans, President Hosni Mubarak, is on his way out (thanks to people power) to tighten the blockade of Gaza and make a revival of peace talks almost impossible.

President Obama’s weakness was exposed when a 10-month Israel settlement freeze expired on September 26, and the Palestinians refused to go to the negotiating table without a fresh moratorium.

In a desperate attempt to persuade them to resume negotiations, Washington and Israel agreed on a new deal that would extend the settlement ban for three months.

Under this agreement Israel would be granted a generous package of incentives, which includes a $3 billion worth of fighter jets, a reward for its bad behaviour!

The new deal has been vigorously opposed within Israel and rejected by the Palestinians; this has put Obama in a quandary.
The Palestinians have insisted they will not resume negotiations without a total settlement freeze. But, now, the crucial question is, what next?

There has been talk among Palestinians of abandoning the useless peace process and turning to the UN system to seek international recognition of Palestinian statehood, which sounds okay; but which UN system are they talking about? Are they referring to the Security Council, which is virtually under America’s control and has lost credibility?

Personally I think that the Palestinians who had devoted themselves to the peace process for more than two decades and made many sacrifices and concessions to Israel (and yet they are still under occupation) need to rethink their strategy.
What, in my view, can knock sense into the American and Israeli establishments and rekindle the Palestinians’ hopes is another intifada..
Mr Kagaruki is a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam


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