Yuba Nath Lamsal
American President Barak Obama paid a whirlwind visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, right at the beginning of his second term in office. This trip is viewed by many as an important initiative by Washington to bring about peace, harmony and stability in the world’s most conflict-ridden region. However, Obama’s remarks during his trip to Israel, Jordan and Palestine Authority need to be carefully analysed whether Washington is genuinely interested to restore peace and stability in the region or it simply wants to benefit from the prolonged conflict.
As the only superpower, the United States has definitely an important role and responsibility not only in the Middle East but also in the entire world. Given the past tract record, Washington’s role in the Middle East is subject to criticism. The US policy in the in the Middle East is viewed by many as more pro-Zionist than supportive to peace in the region. Some even accuse Washington of instigating war to engage the Arab countries in conflict so that the United States can extract maximum benefit from this oil=rich region.
The crux of the conflict in the Middle East is the tension between Israel and the rest of the Muslim population in the region. Given the influence of Jews in the American politics and economy, any party and person in the White House cannot simply ignore the Jew population and their prime concern. Israel is the only Jewish nation in the world and Jews all over the world have strong support for the existence of Israel. But Israel always feels that its existence and survival are threatened by the surrounding Muslim population and countries, whose policies are seen antagonistic to the existence of Israel. This situation exists right after the creation of Israel as an independent country and even before.
The land of Israel has been important and sacred for Jewish people right from the Biblical time. With the invasion by Muslim warriors, part of Israel including Jerusalem fell into the control of Arabs and it continued to remain under the rule of Arabs for more than 1300 years. With control over Jerusalem by Arabs, Jewish considered themselves as stateless people and always aspired to take back their land from the hands of Arabs. After the World War II, a favorable situation was created by international powers for Jewish people to regain their statehood, which helped create Independent Israel. Although Jewish people got their state, a section of Arab Muslims living in the area called Palestine were rendered stateless. This is the root of the conflict in the Middle East.
Palestinians are still stateless. But they are on way to attaining the Palestine statehood. With the signing of the Peace deal between Israel and Palestinian authorities, which was brokered by Washington, a Palestine Authority has been created in certain parts under Israel’s control. Israel agreed to relinquish control over certain parts to facilitate Palestine state. Although full Palestine state is still far away, the creation of Palestine authority has helped ease tension between Israel and Palestinians.
The United States mooted two-nation theory under which Israel and Palestine can exist. This is what Obama spoke and pushed for during his recent trip to Middle East. But time will tell whether the United States is sincere to what it has promised to the Palestine and Arab people. Unless this issue was resolved and addressed to the satisfaction of both the Israelis and Palestinians, genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East would be elusive.
It is to be understood with more clarity that the recent visit of American President to the Middle East was designed to lay out a pragmatic and less idealistic set of policy parameters that will reassure America’s allies in the region that the US understands the issues at stake and is prepared to deal with them in a more pragmatic and resolute manner. Also, Obama wanted to give a message to its critics and adversaries in the Middle East namely Iran and Syria that Washington is serious in establishing peace in the region provided the Arab governments toed US lines. The tone and tenor with which President Obama spoke during his strategic visit to Middle East also serves warning to the adversaries in the region to get ready to face the music.
To be sure, one of the core goals of Obama’s visit is to spark the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, unlike his high-profile visits to Turkey and Egypt at the beginning of his first term that was designed to restore America’s lost image in the Muslim world. During the recent visit, the Obama administration has sought to lower expectations, emphasizing that it does not possess a magic solution to the conflict or a new peace plan to promote peace and order in the region. One can be assured by the Obama’s remarks that Washington would continue to prove material and moral support to Palestine Authority. Given these developments, it is certain that there will not be any significant policy change in the Middle East.
Hamas, a radical political group that has been opposing the Israel-PLO deal, is Washington’s headache. Obama administration knows ell that the current Palestine Authority led by Fatah faction of Mohammad Abbas must be given moral and material support to counterbalance the growing influence of Hamas. Obama did what he could do to boost the morale of Palestine Authority and also tried to give the message to the Palestine people that their statehood is in the pipeline. In order to further strengthen the Palestine Authority and boost its popularity, Washington may broker another Israeli-Palestinian deal and bring them closer that will alley the fear of Palestine people.
Of course, restarting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the only vital matter on Obama’s Middle East agenda. His commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons has been consistent right from the beginning of his presidency. But it remains to be seen whether President Obama has that will and capability to translate his peace vision in the Middle East especially between Israel and Palestinians.
It seems that the Obama administration’s declared position vis-a vis the Middle East remains unchanged, which includes, among others, continued and tougher sanctions against Iran aiming at forcing Teheran to bow down. However, Washington’s move appears to be more cautious to ensure that any moves that Obama Administration takes in the Middle East may not backfire back home. Already frustrated by the failure of its policy in Syria, Obama wants slow but sure result to protect its interest in the Middle East. The interest of the United States in the Middle East is both strategic and economic. Once Washington loses its influence in the region, its direct repercussion will be in Europe, central Asia and South Asia. The Middle East is the source a major of oil supply to the United States and Washington’s global role and power would be determined how it handles and controls the Middle Eastern economy and politics. President Obama’s trip was to reinforce Washington’s presence and influence in the Middle East.
The president's visit to Israel and the region is intended, therefore, to reassure its regional partners of the United States’ commitment to their security and well-being, and to clarify that notwithstanding America’s primary focus on its domestic challenges, the Obama administration possesses both the intention and capability to effectively address the region's pressing problems.
Overall, the Middle East is ridden in uncertainty. But, at the same time, the region seems to be posing newer and more serious challenges as well as new opportunities. Obama’s first presidential visit offers Israel the opportunity to strengthen its strategic relationship with the US at this delicate moment, which may send negative message to the Arab world. Thus, the President Obama included Palestine and Jordan as the part of his Middle Eastern trip to reassure the Arab countries that Washington considers all Arab countries as its allies and accords due importance to them. It is now high time that Washington demonstrate its intention both in words and action for peace and security of the Middle East, for which the United needs to change its Middle East policy.