Saturday, April 20, 2024

EDITORIAL: Middle East peace still elusive

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It is perhaps no accident that, in the midst of the turmoil within many Arab states, United States President Barack Obama has set his eyes on that ever elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Without any major foreign policy success during Obama’s term of office, this initiative is ever more urgent. The four most powerful Arab countries – Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are all experiencing significant internal changes that could threaten the Middle East political dynamic forever.
Confronted with its own failure to foster any semblance of stability throughout the region and unable to find solutions in Egypt, Iraq, Syria or Libya, the United States is now pursuing the prize of Middle East peace.
Negotiations between Israel and Palestine always grab headlines and it is a good time for some distraction from the disastrous consequences of the Arab Spring. Secretary of State John Kerry has estimated that it will take nine months to reach a final status agreement.
The question is: what could make Kerry succeed in the “mission impossible” when he faces the same intractable issues that have derailed so many previous efforts for over 30 years?
If history and rumblings among ultra right Israeli parties are a guide, the chances of success are next to nothing. Scepticism about Kerry’s initiative is almost universal, and it’s understandable when you look at the “graveyard of past negotiations”.
Nonetheless, Kerry deserves some credit for having brought the two sides back to the table. As one newspaper noted: if such a “basic achievement should be greeted with ululations”, it is indicative of the profound difficulties ahead.
Further, no new ideas have emerged to guarantee success. We agree that it seems somewhat odd that an Obama administration that has been out to sea on Syria and Egypt should now expend scarce political capital on the Middle East’s Gordian knot.
We also appreciate that the Palestinian question is one of the Middle East’s core problems, and its continuing statelessness and the oppression its people are forced to endure is one of the greatest tragedies of modern times.
We should also note that nothing material has changed to make peace more likely now than before though there seems to a softening of both sides’ positions. What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to “grab hold of a stick of dynamite”.
If they can’t defuse it within the gestation period of nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up. There is too much at stake now and Obama seems determined to get a lasting peace agreement before he leaves office.
Without it, the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably with broad European support, and the Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative.
Unfortunately, the United States remains unwilling and/or incapable of applying real pressure on Israel to get them to do the one thing needed to demonstrate good faith: freeze settlement construction; without which peace remains elusive.

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