Randa Takieddine
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
April 8, 2009 - 12:00am

The Israeli press has announced that US President Barack Obama will visit Israel in June.

In Strasbourg, French President Nicholas Sarkozy raised with Obama the necessity of pushing peace forward in the Middle East and not being deterred by Benjamin Netanyahu's becoming prime minister of Israel. Sarkozy told Obama that he should deal with the reality of Netanyahu's election and push the peace process forward under all conditions, quickly and immediately.

Sarkozy had ideas about launching an international summit to push the peace process forward on all tracks. According to those close to Sarkozy, he believes that the idea of employing different tracks in the peace process and waiting for their implementation should be dropped. However, Sarkozy did not put these ideas to Obama, even though he told him that speed in encouraging peace is required, and that 2009 should be the year of peace.

However, the US president continues to adhere to the Annapolis Process and the Road Map. He appointed a special envoy who enjoys considerable respect in order to find a solution, and Obama wants to test the Netanyahu government in the coming months, based on what he told Sarkozy. However, Netanyahu does not need to be tested; he is well-known for being a hardliner when it comes to the core issues of a solution.

With the extremist right-wing government that he has formed, it is difficult for him to agree to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on Israel's borders and retreat on the policy of settlements, which he stepped up when he was last prime minister. During that tenure, the settlement of Har Homa, south of Jerusalem, was established, along with the Ras al-Amud settlement, near the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Obama is certainly very concerned with encouraging the peace process in the region, but no US administration is prepared to impose sanctions on Israel. Since the willingness is lacking, Israel cannot do what is being asked of it. Even the former US secretary of state, James Baker, who was involved in organizing the Madrid Conference, said in an interview with CNN that he knows Netanyahu and that he is a pragmatist, and might move toward peace with Syria, since it is difficult for him to confront issues on the Palestinian front, especially Jerusalem and settlements.

The observation by Baker, who remains a supporter of Obama, based on what he said in the interview, indicates that despite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's remarks during the Arab Summit about Israel and its policy, the peace process on the Syrian-Israeli track might take off, so that Netanyahu can avoid making any concession in the interest of the Palestinians, and busy his friends in the west, from Sarkozy to Obama, with a track that is easier for him than the Palestinian-Israeli one.

If a true peace process between Israel and Syria is achieved, it will postpone forever a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, which is a cancer in the entire Arab region. The Arab initiative calls for a comprehensive peace and the region will not rest until normalization takes place between Syria and Israel, and Lebanon and Israel, without there being a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

The coming of Netanyahu to office in Israel, contrary to what is being said, does not change anything with regard to Israel's policy of repression, closures and settlement, just like saying that Netanyahu is a hard-liner is nothing new in Israel.

All Israeli prime ministers, with the exception of Yitzhak Rabin, carried out the same policy, over decades, with different conditions among the Palestinians, and different conditions among the Americans. Will the American envoy, Senator George Mitchell, be able to specify to his president a just vision of the solution to the issue? He is worthy of putting forth such a vision, but the question is whether Obama's political environment will give him the opportunity to pressure Israel. Israel will not offer any concession to the Palestinians, especially since it realizes that any US administration will be ready to impose sanctions on all countries of the world, with the exception of Israel.

How will a solution appear? How will the Road Map, or the Annapolis agreement be implemented?

Logic and experience in Israeli and American politics say that Israel will conduct a separate peace with Arab countries, but the Palestinian people will be at its mercy. Its refugees will remain in the Arab countries that host them now. All of the statements by Lebanese politicians opposed to settling Palestinians in Lebanon will remain words on paper, as long as Israel continues to reject the right of return and the establishment of a Palestinian state.


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