Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
March 31, 2010 - 12:00am

Pres. Obama's administration has reconceptualized the nature of strategic and political dynamics in the Middle East and the broader Islamic world, ATFP Senior Fellow Hussein Ibish told an audience of over 100 at Pace University on Thursday, March 25, 2010. He said that during the Bush administration and traditionally, the United States has viewed strategic relations in the Arab and Islamic worlds as a series of discrete problems and challenges to be dealt with on bilateral or trilateral bases. Ibish argued that historically the United States has seen these relations as discrete and sometimes overlapping challenges to be dealt with largely individually. He said that in the Obama era, "the administration, many other American institutions and the foreign policy establishment generally have largely abandoned this model in favor of a more holistic approach that sees these strategic relations as interdependent, like a kaleidoscope in which when one piece shifts, the entire pattern changes." He added, "and, they have rightly identified Palestine and the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 as the center of this dynamic pattern because of its political and symbolic importance throughout the region."

Ibish said that this reconceptualization was apparent in numerous policies. He said the shift in emphasis away from the war in Iraq, which Pres. Obama was committed to concluding, and towards a greater engagement in Afghanistan, was an example of this new understanding. He added that while Pres. Obama was expanding the US mission in Afghanistan, he was simultaneously reducing its ambitions to a more manageable agenda. Ibish said that under Obama, American policy emphasized restoring relationships, building alliances and diplomatic outreach rather than regional transformation, democratization and reform. He also said that the redefinition of the "War on Terror," to the more realistic and meaningful concept of the "War against Al Qaeda," further reflected this healthy change in attitude.

Ibish noted that there are also many continuities between the policies of the two administrations, since fundamental interests do not change because of an election. He said that the essential elements of US grand strategy in the region remained unchanged, and identified its key elements as regional stability, managing the access of the global economy to the region's energy resources, Israel's security, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and combating extremism and terrorist organizations, especially in order to prevent another terrorist attack within the United States. However, Ibish said, "the new holistic approach has led to serious re-evaluations that are having an obvious impact on US-Israel relations as we speak." He noted that at the heart of the confrontation over settlements between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu cabinet in Israel was the determination of the United States to advance a two-state peace agreement and apparent skepticism in the Israeli government about whether such an agreement is achievable or desirable.

Ibish provided his audience with a chronology of how diplomacy on the peace process has proceeded since Pres. Obama's inauguration, culminating in the confrontations during the visits of VP Biden to the region and PM Netanyahu to Washington. He called the confrontations, "almost inevitable, given the fundamental incompatibility of the attitudes of the two governments." He predicted further confrontations, especially if Palestinians and other Arabs proved cooperative and constructive. However, he warned that US pressure on Palestinians was a likely sequel to the confrontation with Israel and said that it was important for Palestinians to take it in stride since "they are dealing with a friend and ally who is doing the heavy lifting for them but who thinks they have serious responsibilities of their own and will not hesitate to hold their feet to the fire as well." During the question-and-answer session, Ibish said he thought Palestinian divisions between the West Bank and Gaza needed to be resolved through elections in which the public could choose between Hamas, Fatah and other parties, but added it is obvious that Hamas is determined to block elections for the foreseeable future.


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