Hassan Haidar
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
December 17, 2010 - 1:00am

Ever since Obama arrived at the White House, Israel has exerted every effort possible to convince him that the priority of his foreign policy should be the Iranian issue and preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, either through intensified sanctions or through military action, and that he would easily find solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the nuclear threat from Iran were to cease and Tehran’s influence in Gaza, Lebanon and other places were to be reduced.

However, the US President, who started his presidency by addressing the Muslim World differently, considered that the issue of Palestine was the core of the problem in the Middle East, and that finding a solution for it or placing it on the track towards a solution would make it easier for him to deal with the other issues in the region, among them Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Islamic extremism.

This is why he immediately started engaging directly in seeking a settlement on the basis of the two-state solution, appointed envoys and mediators to sponsor the negotiations, which alternated between direct and indirect talks, and exerted pressures on Israel to put a stop to its excessive settlement- building assault, which is obstructing peace efforts and preventing the discussion from reaching permanent situation issues.

This approach upset Israel, embarrassed it and raised the level of political tension within and around it, but it did not deprive it of the ability to resist and create problems. And the past two years of Obama’s presidency have shown that the Hebrew state knew how to procrastinate, how to be uncompromising, how to keep its “moderates” away from the forefront, and how to play its winning cards on the US domestic scene with the help of powerful right-wing pressure groups, until the midterm elections of the two houses of Congress led to a crushing defeat that made the President rein in his enthusiasm, reconsider his priorities, at both the domestic and foreign levels equally, and gradually abandon putting pressure on Israel – especially as the next presidential electoral race has in effect started, and he needs the Jewish voters who voted for him in large numbers two years ago.

And although the US Administration exerted tremendous pressures on Tehran, in the shape of harsh UN sanctions as well as of its own unilateral sanctions, which it and other Western countries threaten to strengthen further, especially after the failure of the recent Geneva negotiations to achieve any breakthrough, and as Iran maintaining its refusal to discuss what it considers to be its absolute right to obtain nuclear capabilities, its dealing with the Iranian crisis is not likely to lead to military action similar to what the former George Bush Administration did when it found invading Iraq to be the perfect escape from “getting implicated” in resolving the Palestinian issue, because the repercussions would be extreme for both sides.

What choice does the Obama Administration then have, to emerge from what is clearly a predicament in the Middle East? And what are the alternatives it could adopt? The start does not bode much good, as Mitchell has come to Ramallah to convey yet another retraction, in the shape of his ignoring to mention the 1967 borders, which are considered the basis of the two-state solution. This means that the talks which Washington will resume with both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, over the stances of each of them on the issues of the borders, security, Jerusalem and the refugees could take many long years without leading to any practical results, and they may witness additional retractions from the US on past pledges, that is if they are not preceded by changes in Washington itself.

Obama has discovered through experience that he could not overcome the organic relationship that exists between the United States and Israel, and that he could not disentangle Washington’s policy in the Middle East from the domestic electoral formula, as anything that happens here has an impact there and vice versa. But the matter might take a tremendous amount of time, as the Palestinians and the Arabs are now convinced that the peace they seek after under their present circumstances is nothing but a mirage.


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