The Middle East Challenge for President Obama

By Saeed Qureshi                                

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will start direct talks in Washington on September 2. President Obama will not directly participate but would oversee the talks. The crucial talks are being conducted on the express wish of president Obama who is eager to find such a solution of the lingering issue of the Israel- Palestinian territorial dispute that satisfies both the parties. As preliminaries to the consequent solution, the issues of borders, security, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the fate of the Palestinian refugees would be deliberated upon.

In my reckoning president Obama would somehow broker some sort of a breakthrough towards an acceptable solution of the intractable conflict premised upon the two states pledge in the land of Palestine. Since the state of Israel is already in existence since May 1948, the solution squarely devolves around fulfilling the second part of the United Nations resolution No. 181 calling for the creation of two states in Palestine: one for Jews and the other for the Palestinian nation.

My optimism stems from Obama’s spectacular achievements in barely 18 months’ time that he has been the president of the United States. The Health Care Bill was signed into law by president Obama in March this year. This victory is stunning because all previous attempts to overhaul the health care system have met with failure including the one named as “Clinton Health Care Plan”. The Clinton plan that contained far-reaching proposals was defeated in both the House and the Senate, and was abandoned in September 1994.

For 62 years, Israel abetted by the United States has managed to defer the follow up action on the historic United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) adopted on 29 November 1947. The resolution called for the “termination of the British Mandate for Palestineand the partition of the territory into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area being under special international protection, administered by the United Nations.”

Even the landmark Oslo Accord inked in Washington, DC on 13 September 1993, in the presence of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and US President Bill Clinton did not achieve the stipulated goals mentioned in the accord. One of the hallmarks of the accord was the consensus to address and resolve all the outstanding “final status issues” between the two sides.

All these years of strained relations between Israel and Palestinians there has been more bloodshed, more human sufferings and brutalities for the uprooted Palestinians. In the meantime, the leadership of PLO was divided in hardliner Hamas and the PLO itself occupying separate tracts of land.

All these years of strained relations between Israel and Palestinians there has been more bloodshed, more human sufferings and brutalities for the uprooted Palestinians. In the meantime, the leadership of PLO was divided in hardliner Hamas and the PLO itself occupying separate tracts of land.

President Obama’s second dazzling achievement is the firm adherence to his decision to end the combat operations in Iraq and withdrawal of American troops from that embattled country by the deadline of August 2010. He has stood by his commitment and the bulk of troops have already left Iraq. The remaining transitional force between 35000 to 50000 is scheduled to leave by the end of 2010. These remaining troops would stay back to train, equip, and advise the Iraqi security forces to deal with terrorism.

Although on December 1, 2009, president Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 military personnel to Afghanistan, yet at the same time he also proposed troops withdrawals to begin after 18 months from the date of the announcement, which means by June 2011. A part of military might remain in Afghanistan for the same purposes that have been earmarked in Iraq.

President Obama’s recovery and reform packages for the economic system and to remove the anomalies are already being debated and put in place. It can be expected that in the coming days, he would finalize his overhaul plan of the prevailing financial regime that presently favors the big companies at the cost of the common citizens.

His overreach to the Islamic world despite stiff opposition from the rightist and conservative forces in America is a giant step that can improve and refurbish the anti-Muslim image of America in the Islamic countries. Obama’s speech delivered at Cairo University in Egypt on June 4, 2009 calling for “a new beginning” in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and promoting Middle East peace, has been widely lauded as a big breakthrough and a radiant landmark in mitigating the misconceptions and hate about America.

The policy of military disengagements in Iraq and Afghanistan propelled by president Obama would untangle and free America from a spiraling debt burden and wasteful expenditure on wars being fought on foreign lands without any rationale or indispensably fruitful objectives behind these.

Had the trillion dollars spent on wars, that have practically gone down the drain, been spent on rebuilding America, this country would have been transformed into a wonderland of the world. So president Obama is shrinking the American global military involvement which factually is the most pressing and urgent priority for America. These are gubernatorial achievements and speak for the seriousness, vision, and sincerity with which the president takes his pledges made to the American nation.

Perhaps it would be only an astute person as Obama is to realize that flaunting military muscle was no more effective to intimidate the countries that are labeled as hostile to America or to curb the terrorist bands like al-Qaida by undertaking military adventures abroad.

America under Obama has also come to perceive the hard reality that how long America can nurse and nurture Israel as a foster or adopted child. This one sided pro-Israel policy has antagonized almost 48 Muslim majority countries or one-fifth (1.5 billion) of the world’s population for a tiny state of 7.5 million individuals always seized of defending itself with an incessant paranoid of siege. Primarily, these are not Al-Qaida, Taliban, Hezbollah, Shias, Sunnis, or Palestinians that have been deviating from peace in the Middle East but Israel with a stockpile of deadly and latest weaponry and with a mindset of utter defiance to the pledge for the creation of a state for the oppressed Palestinians.

So once America broker’s peace in the Middle East she would be liberated from an unending commitment to save and support Israel at an unimaginable cost in terms of weapons, money, putting off national priorities and even undermining its good image and integrity around the world and especially in the Islamic bloc.

President Obama, while monitoring and even occasionally participating in the critical parleys, would not want this rare occasion to be frittered away in mere gossiping and trading accusations or scoring points. President Obama faced with congressional elections on November 2 and a possible re-election bid in 2012, would like to expect both sides with definitive outcome as a concrete beginning towards a permanent peace in the Middle East.

The very fact that such talks are taking place after their suspension in 2008 under the close and watchful aegis of president Obama are bound to be result-oriented. If Obama has not failed so far in his domestic agenda, it is unlikely that he would fail in the Middle East imbroglio. He would be loathe wasting a unique opportunity that can bring him laurel of abiding honor and catapult him as a remarkable statesman for bringing about the elusive thaw in a situation that kept, hitherto, the peace in the Middle East on tenterhooks.

I therefore, have no hesitation to guess that the die is cast. Prime Minister Netanyahu despite his defiant and hawkish posture would have to budge under the prying eyes of a president who in case of a stalemate would have no compunction to scale down the unstinted guardian angel’s role for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu disregards president Obama’s earnest desire and sincere efforts for a breakthrough then it could prove disadvantageous for the Israel. Whether Israel can still, afford to take that liberty with president Obama, would be manifest soon.

(The writer is a freelance journalist writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan)    

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Comments

  • Gerda Casier  On September 2, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I sincerely hope the writer of this article is right. If there is one person, who can disentangle this domino thread of hatred and revenge, it might be Obama. But I’m not that optimistic. For he has to deal with the pro-Israel lobby at home and those are so powerful. But who knows?

  • Haidre  On September 2, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Creation of Israel and then continuous protection and support by America has been the main source of trouble for the whole world. If there was no Israel or if only Israel was kept within control, there would have been no Iraq, no Hezbollah, no Al Qaida, no 9/11 and no Afghanistan.
    Palestinians have come a long way from outright hostility to recognition of Israel and sitting on a negotiation table with her. All major Arab countries have already recognized Israel. Same UN resolution number 181 under which Israel was created, calls for creation of a Palestinian state. If America plays its role fairly and positively, and pressurizes Israel a little, there should be no reason why it should not come to terms with the state of Palestine.
    It is going to be a test for Obama’s diplomacy. He needs this kind of a success very badly for his second term and also for a meaningful contribution to the world peace.

  • Saeed Qureshi  On September 4, 2010 at 6:52 am

    I agree with both the commentators in their hopes and despairs, their optimism and skeptimsim. This is a situation where no one can bet, as it is fluid.
    However, what I perceive is that Obama can break the ice. It should also be dawned on the combatants that it was the overdue time to bury the hatchet and give what was due to the suppressed Palestinians. The Jewish state has only to get recognition of its legitimacy while for Palestinian nation, it is land, security, jobs, economy, and indeed a fresh start altogether. My hunch is that there would be a massive give and take when both the rival parties once again sit across the table. There could be major announcements and sweeping departures from the previous stances. It would be a situation of quid pro quo and that is the pivotal key to the untangling the guardian knot.
    Saeed Qureshi

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