Middle East Times (Analysis)
February 2, 2009 - 1:00am

There is good news and there is bad news associated with U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East peace initiative.

The good news is that there is a president in the White House who is truly dedicated to forge ahead with the peace process. And for several reasons.

First, the president believes that solving the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian dispute will impact positively on addressing other grievances in the region. While settling the 61-year-old dispute is not going to solve all the region's problems, a comprehensive peace treaty between Israel and the Arab world will go a long way in bringing stability to the troubled region.

Second, this president understands the importance and direct impact peace, or lack thereof, can have on the national security of the United States and its allies.

The bad news is that if this initiative fails to produce tangible results the backlash might be disastrous.

Again, there are two reasons why this initiative may fail.

First, Israeli intransigence to cede on issues, such as the settlements, may stall the peace process. With hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu likely to come out the winner in the forthcoming general elections in Israel, negotiations can only get tougher. Netanyahu is against returning any land captured by Israel and very much in favor of keeping and expanding the settlements. The only way 'Bibi' is likely to show flexibility will depend directly on how much pressure Washington is likely to apply.

However, there may be room for some optimism here as history has shown us that it has always been the most hard-line Israeli prime ministers who moved the peace process with the Arabs forward. Menachem Begin, considered one of the most conservative of Israel's prime ministers, signed the Camp David peace accords with Egypt and returned the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for recognition by Egypt and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Cairo.

And Ariel Sharon, the architect of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, as prime minister withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

The second reason why the future of the peace talks are in jeopardy is because of the Arabs' inability to reach a consensus among themselves before coming to the negotiating table. Intra-Arab squabbling between Syria on the one hand, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the other, does little to help the overall Arab cause.

Several high-ranking Arab diplomats in Washington told the Middle East Times that differences between various Arab countries remain the cause of great concern.

Hamas, which has been at the forefront of the dispute with Israel in recent weeks, has been saying it might seek to form a new front independent of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Many diplomats and observers agree that Obama's peace initiative may very well be the last chance to settle the Middle East dispute. Failure at this point will guarantee decades of conflict and violence. And if the past helps us to predict the future in any small way, we can come away with the following conclusions: with each passing decade since the conflict began in the Middle East, the level of violence has grown exponentially, and the issues have become more complex.

To miss this opportunity for peace will be regretful, to say the least. History will judge today's leaders. And so will their children, especially if they are condemned to fight yet another war.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017