Obama failed in his first term to move the Middle East towards peace but so did his predecessors
By DiMarkco Chandler
George Bush used to say it when referring to the job of the “President of the United States;” “It’s hard work.” In fact, when Bush was making his re-election bid back in 2004, the phrase “it’s hard work” became his mantra. Well, it looks like there is something to say about Bush’s epiphany because last fall at the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama learned a new axiom the hard way. Hence, when he looked on the assembly and stated “Peace is hard work,” everyone in the room knew he finally got it. Yes it is, Mr. President, especially when you’re talking about peace in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama took his oath of office when relations between Israel and Palestine were at an all-time low. During his campaign he had pledged that change was coming, not just to Washington D.C., but also in the area of foreign policy. And why should he not believe he could do a better job than his predecessor, George Bush. After all, the Israeli Palestinian relational conflict happens to be in the purview of his academic credentials. The President had majored in political science at Columbia University with a specialty in international relations. Certainly, he understood conflict; and as a bipartisan legislator he felt all that would be needed was to ask both countries to give a little. The President was convinced that talks could put the two nations on a path to peace. Though in theory, it seemed that his policy made since, Obama even took his foreign policy approach to the Middle East conflict a step further as he proceeded to hedge his bets.
In a recent AP news report delivered by ‘The Washington Post News Service” with “Bloomberg News,” an article titled, “Despite Leaders’ Attempt at New Approach, Israelis and Palestinians Came no Closer During Obama Term,” points out that “In February 2008… Obama met in Cleveland with about 100 Jewish community leaders, hoping that a candid conversation would dispel some of the concerns rising on the campaign trail.” The article reads: “As a candidate of change, [Obama] made clear that he was willing to say things that his predecessors were not.” Speaking to the group at large, Obama said, “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel-community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” In other words pro-Israel approach; Likud is the major center-right political party in Israel. It was formed by Menachem Begin in 1973, which brought together several right-wing and liberal parties. The victory of the Likud party in 1977 marked the first time in Israel’s brief modern history that the liberal party had lost power. So the group assembled before Obama in Cleveland was conservative. Nevertheless, they were listening. They understood that Obama was “referring to a hawkish Israeli political party that did not recognize a Palestinian right to a state.” What makes the meeting so important is that a year later, when Benjamin Netanyahu was head of state in Israel as well as head of the Likud party, Obama was able to summons Jewish supporters that were willing to side with him in his quest to bring the two nations together in talks.
However, as his term in office shows, Obama misjudge the complexity of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Hence, while the solution may be simple, a path to an agreement is quite complex due to the history of the two indigenous people. It is, in fact, an ancient animosity rooted in fear that seems to control and inform both parties aversion to peace.
Obama naïvely believed that the conflict was a result of the 1967 Six-Day-War, also known as the “Third Arab-israeli War” fought between June 5 and 10 in 1967. The war was launched by Israel against Egyptian air-fields, which gave the Israeli forces control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights from Syria. As a result of the war, 300,000 Palestinians left the West bank and Gaza and settled primarily in Jordan.
Since 1967, Israel has held on to much of the land it gained in the war in spite of world condemnation. Israel practically admits that it is occupying a territory that is not their own and in fact have been building permanent settlements since the end of the war. In 1993 Israel agreed to the Oslo Accords, which said there should be a transfer of powers to the Palestinians; no prejudgment of permanent status; and that Israel would be responsible for the security of the area. These negotiations were suppose to lead to eventual peace and a Palestinian Nation.
It is in accordance to both the 1967 boundaries and the Oslo Accords that informed Obama’s approach to assist in solving the conflict. What the President did not expect or perhaps understand was that the hardliner, Benjamin Netanyahu, would not cooperate. In fact, even if Obama just wanted the Arabs to think he was neutral in the negotiations to bring Palestine to peace table with Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister continued to push back.
Thus, Obama’s call for “a new beginning” between the United States and Muslims in a June 2009 speech, was first seen by Arab nations as a small step forward but not enough to spark them to meaningfully participate.
The trilateral meeting at the Waldorf Astoria hotel between Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas signaled that the President was on the right foot. In November of the same year he was able to get Netanyahu to agree to a 10-month freeze on the establishment of new settlements in the West Bank, but Prime Minister excluded East Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas was disappointed, and couldn’t be convinced to talk peace until it was too late.
Now as we enter the end of Obama’s first four years in office, Israeli and Palestinian relations are not only no better they are actually worse than when Obama first took the oath of office.
In recent months, Prime Minister Netanyahu engineered a way to justify the annexation of most of the West Bank. Such action could end the Mideast peace process altogether. Something has to give or else this generation will be facing war on a colossal scale.
The facts laid out here are not intended to indict the U.S. president. Presidents prior to Obama have equally failed. This look is a cursory observation of the history of the two nations and is simply an attempt to draw attention to the problem at hand; furthermore, it is to point out what might be at the root of the conflict. It is clear that the Palestinians will not talk unless Netanyahu stops building settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is clear that Netanyahu believes that the safety of his nation depends on its strategic use of the West Bank. In addition, Israel believes that the Arabs have no real historic claim on East Jerusalem.
Therefore, we’re left with no real answers, just as Obama is left with no real solutions. At present, his views and thoughts have evolved. Informed through four years of attempting to make a difference, Obama now says that the conflict is about the Israelis and the Palestinians as he wisely sees the difficulty of a diplomatic solution.
Oh, and in case it’s been forgotten, any solution to their problem is going to take very serious effort because, as Obama puts it, “It’s hard work…it’s really hard.”