US President Visits Middle East Region

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moderation, Obama’s New Strategy in the Middle East

Mohammad Ali Sobhani
Iran's Former Ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan

During the past few months, a number of important events have taken place in the Middle East and the world which prove that political players are more willing to exercise moderateness and avoid extremism. The first development was reelection of the US President Barak Obama in the country’s presidential polls and his reinstatement for another four years. His election win clearly showed that the American people are more in favor of relatively moderate policies of Obama under the present circumstances. Of course, some people believe that even Obama’s new national security team and changes made to that team will increase the weight of moderateness in US foreign policy. This is a special turn of events which has attracted the attention of regional countries and political forces alike.

The second development which has taken place is the elections in Israel. Although the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won the Israeli election, the composition of Israel’s parliament, Knesset, indicates that Israel will have to adopt more moderate policies compared to the past. Of course, any government topped by Netanyahu will finally angle toward radicalism; however, the set-up of the Knesset will certainly make him modify his behavior in specific fronts. Therefore, there will be certain, even though slight, modifications in the viewpoints and methods of Israel.

The third issue is the efforts made by various Palestinian groups to achieve unity among them. Following general elections in 2006 which swept the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, to power and led to the establishment of Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians became divided. The rival groups which did not support Hamas refused to accept the election returns at that juncture and this led to disagreements among Palestinians. Following the latest developments in the Arab world, major efforts, which have been also effective to a large extent, were made, especially by Egypt and Qatar, to get divided Palestinian groups closer together. The main goal of those efforts was to unite two major Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah, and have so far led to important agreements between the two, so that, daily reports are heard about new agreements between Hamas and Fatah over new issues. There is no doubt that if two major Palestinian groups reach unity, new conditions will govern their future approaches to various issues.

The fourth approach which is evident is the situation faced by some Arab revolutions. Countries where those revolutions have taken place are currently facing the challenge of terrorism. Of special concern is the crisis which has been unraveling in Syria during the past two years, which has become increasingly of concern to the Americans. The reason is that radical and terrorist forces as well as unpredictable and uncontrollable armed forces have gained the upper hand in Syria. Increased role of these forces has caused serious concern in this regard.

It goes without saying that people in Arab countries seek changes and developments in political fields. On the other hand, such changes and developments have been already in gears in some countries. It has been a regular habit with the Americans to apparently get along with people’s demands and ride the waves of democracy seeking of the Arab nations.

After being reelected as the US president through the latest presidential polls, Obama has been trying to formulate a policy plan for his next four years in office. The fact that he is bent on starting his second term’s foreign visits from the Middle East clearly shows that developments in the Middle East region are of utmost importance to the United States as these developments had turned into the world’s topmost concern in 2012. Through those developments, many important and stable governments have been already overthrown and this issue has had profound consequences for the entire region. In the meantime, Syria and Bahrain are still engulfed by crisis and are facing very serious challenges.

It seems that Barack Obama has started a new round of his efforts on the basis of the aforesaid three factors in order to create new conditions to rebuild the overall structure of the Israeli – Palestinian peace process. The Palestinian groups, on the other hand, are getting united. It was the absence of unity among those groups which had stalled previous peace talks. During previous negotiations, when the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas attended talks with Israelis, his initiative was never supported by Hamas. The lack of support from Hamas for Abbas meant that the negotiations he had taken part is lacked international value and credit. However, now the Palestinians have succeeded to get their country’s status at the United Nations upgraded from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state.” This has been a clear outcome of the internal consensus that the Palestinians have reached among them as well as other countries’ support for the cause of Palestine.

The same path should be tread to achieve peace. It means that if the Palestinians are going to have peace, enter the process which would lead to it, and set goals for peace talks, they should have powerful domestic support for that. Negotiations for an issue of national importance will certainly need adequate national determination. As a result of new agreements among the Palestinian groups that national determination has come to the attention to the Americans and they now think that Palestinians are blessed with powerful consensus among them to be able to push ahead with peace talks. The same issue has also created a slight hope among the officials of Israel. The fact that the radical government of Israel is now under pressure from more moderate figures, has encouraged the United States to once more try its chance for the reactivation of the Middle East peace process. There is no doubt that the most serious stumbling block facing Americans in this regard is the challenge that the Israelis have created over the issue of continued construction of settler units on the occupied lands of Palestinians. The type of negotiations that Israelis are ready to engage in, as well as their resilience toward and readiness for negotiations are other obstacles that should be surmounted before any talks are started.

It seems that the Americans have reached the conclusion that they should take the revolutions in Arab countries more seriously and find a way in order to reduce the existing challenges and help to create easier conditions in the region. In other words, they want to see if they can find a way to reduce role of terrorism in the ongoing developments of this critical region. They also want to know if they can concurrently fight terrorism and continue to ride the wave of democratization in Arab countries without being accused of not cooperating with people. It seems that another goal of Obama’s regional tour is to assess the conditions in the region and see if he can continue to fight terrorism and lend support to people’s demands at the same time.

Of course, it is customary for the American politicians that when new governments come into being, they delineate their renewed approaches to various issues by taking trips to different parts of the world. Today, the Middle East is more in the limelight than other regions of the world. Therefore, we must wait and see what policy Obama will adopt in the Middle East during his second term in office.

Key Words: US President, Middle East, Moderation, Netanyahu, Palestinian Groups, Arab Revolutions, Sobhani

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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