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Perspectives

November 10, 2009
Tough talk will break the Middle East impasse

A checkpoint in the West Bank.

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former career diplomat and a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York. He currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University. He is a contributing blogger for Worldfocus.

In the past decades the United States has taken the lead in initiating a number of diplomatic moves to cut the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are two UN Security Council Resolutions agreed to by the protagonists: the Madrid Peace Process and the Road Map to a two-state solution. These initiatives have largely foundered on the twin shoals of Israeli intransigence and Palestinian disunity.

Enter President Obama with his vow to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world. His speeches in Egypt and Turkey calling for new beginning were warmly welcomed by Muslims and indeed the wider international community. Obama called for a total freeze on Israeli settlements as a necessary first step to starting comprehensive negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians aimed at ending their conflict. No doubt his motives were sincere. However, his efforts have yielded no concrete results so far.

The Israeli government, led by Netanyahu and his hawkish Foreign Minister Lieberman, have spurned Obama’s entreaties to freeze all settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The U.S. then changed course and is now trying to get the two sides to talk while new settlement blocks continue to be built. No Palestinian leadership can be expected to negotiate in this scenario. The impasse has deepened. US credibility is at a low point in the Muslim world.

The opinion in the street is that Obama lacks the clout with Netanyahu to bring him around to halt all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories. Not doing so means that a two state solution will not happen. The ability of the U.S. to act as an honest broker is thus being questioned again. Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seems to have thrown up his hands in despair. He says he will not be standing for reelection next January.

The U.S. is the main supporter and aid-giver to Israel. U.S. interests in the Middle East apparently dictate that it continues to support Israel — come what may. I disagree with this post-1967 assessment because the Middle East has evolved. Clinging to old shibboleths in foreign policy never helps. But the real question is how long will the Arab countries continue to put up with the abominable status quo of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands?

Meanwhile, the Palestinian political leadership is split with the extremist Hamas faction ruling in Gaza while an increasing weak and ineffectual Abbas has a tenuous hold in the West Bank, and Palestinians continue to suffer the daily humiliations of an onerous Israeli occupation.

I think the Obama administration needs to get tough with both the Israelis and Palestinians. Both should be told that they have to get their act together. The Israelis should be told in no uncertain terms that they cannot expect to hold on to the West Bank and East Jerusalem indefinitely. The US should not be squeamish. It must treat Israel as any other country in the Middle East and not as a special case. The Fatah and Hamas factions need to be told to bury their differences, form a unity government and engage with the Israelis. Sometimes tough love produces fruitful results compared to continuing meaningless talks to nowhere.

Whether Obama and his team can summon the political resolve, commitment and impartiality in moving the two parties toward a final settlement of this long standing conflict remains to be seen. One can only hope that Obama will succeed where his predecessors have failed. Otherwise we should brace ourselves for another eruption of bloody fighting with incalculable consequences for peace and stability in the Middle East.

The views of contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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Comments

6 comments

#6

With the Wall encompassing Palestinian territory in many areas, the continuing expansion of settlements and the disproportionate allocation of water by the Israeli government, the idea of two states (one state based on two separated regions) is becoming less and less likely. The solution is to have one state with equal representation for all citizens with an undivided capital and without any barrier wall. (www.embar.net – for additional articles)

#5

There will be no peace for Israel untill those who
support the Palestinians are willing to make peace.
Most of the fighting is supported by countries that do not want peace and view Israel as a
western power, supported by western powers like
the United States.
Russia also should be looked at as a Eastern power
that sees any support of Israel as not in the best
interests of its allies in the Islam countries.
Even though Russia has fought some wars with Islam
countries, it has done so to maintain its power
in the region and the Arabs understand that.
The Islam countries put up with Saddam Hussian
because he was strong enough to hold the factions
within his country togeother, but the present
President of Iraq can not do that.
So the Arab population’s views power as the most
important factor in any peace that will last.
The United States has to use its power better.
How it does that will either bring peace or more
war.

#4

I believe that the your assessment of the situation is quite fair and balanced. But I question the objectives of both the US and Israel governments. While I agree that Israel bares the onus to bury the hatchet and the US needs to consider actually applying pressure on Israel but this set of circumstances have remained a static attribute of international affairs for more than a decade. Status quo politics have remained a tool for either side. Treat the conflict as though progress may be had, while at the same time playing slight of hand and and permit continued progression of Israeli settlements. Motives need to be clarified and intentions clearly illustrated by both the US and Israel. Transparency is precondition for any resolutions in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

#3

International borders only exist between states that recognize each other’s right to exist in peace. The 1949 Armistice lines were not international borders because the surrounding Arab states refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace.

#2

Obama promised change. I see change as isrial not just freezing settlements but withdrawing to internationally recognized boarders. Theft illegal encroachment and partitioning off land in an attempt to confiscate it is a crime and thieves should not be allowed to prosper from their crimes.

#1

If 1.2 million Arabs can live in the Galilee and Negev, then half a million Jews should be able to live in Judah and Samaria. The Arab population inside Israel should be subjected to a building freeze too if Jews must submit to on in Judah and Samaria.

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