Moderation, Obama’s New Strategy in the Middle East

14 February 2013 | 23:45 Code : 1912794 Review General category
An essay by Mohammad Ali Sobhani, Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan
Moderation, Obama’s New Strategy in the Middle East


During recent months, several important incidents have occurred in the Middle East which is indicative of an approach towards moderate policies and putting aside radicalism. The first incident was the US election and Barack Obama's re-election and the continuation of his presidency. His victory in the election showed that the people of the US are also more inclined towards Obama's relatively moderate policies under these conditions. Of course, some believe that even Mr. Obama’s new team and changes made in this regard will lead to more moderation. This is a special event which has attracted the attention of the countries and forces of the region.

The second incident is Israel's elections. In these elections, even though Mr. Netanyahu has come to power, but considering the composition of the Knesset, the parliament of the Zionist regime, it is assumed that Israel's policies should also be less radical compared to the past. Of course, the government led by Mr. Netanyahu will ultimately be radical but the composition of the Knesset will moderate his behavior. Therefore, there will be changes, however small, in the views and policies of the Zionist regime.

The third issue is the efforts made by the Palestinians for unity. Following the 2006 election and Hamas’ victory and the formation of a government which was inclined towards Hamas, differences grew among the Palestinians. Hamas’ rivals did not accept the result of the election at that juncture and this led to differences. Following the developments of the Arab world, there have been great efforts made to unite the Palestinians especially with the help of the Egyptian and the Qataris. These attempts aimed at bringing the two Palestinian groups of Fatah and Hamas closer to each other has led to important agreements and every day there are reports of Fatah and Hamas agreements on new issues. Certainly, if these two main Palestinian groups unite, there will be new approaches on both sides.

The fourth approach we are faced with is the situation of the Arab revolutions. These revolutions are faced with the challenge of terrorism. The crisis which has formed in Syria since two years ago has especially become, more than ever before, an issue of concern for the Americans, for the radical and terrorist groups and unpredictable and uncontrollable armed forces have gained a considerable role in Syria. The increasing role of these forces has created more concerns.

Obviously people in the Arab world demand changes in the political scene and these developments have occurred in several countries. The US policy has also been to sympathize with the people and to ride on the wave of democracy-seeking in the Arab nations.

After his re-election, Obama seeks to draw out his plan for his next four years. The fact that he is beginning the visits of his second term as president in the Middle East shows that the developments in this region are very important for the US and that they became the top issue of the world in 2012. During these developments, several very important and stable governments were overthrown which led to significant ramifications in the region. Meanwhile, Syria and Bahrain are still involved in crisis and are confronted with very serious challenges.

It seems that Barack Obama has begun a new round of efforts based on the three factors which were mentioned above, in order to create an atmosphere for the possibility of reviewing the structure of the peace process and Palestinian-Israeli cooperation, for the Palestinians are also in the process of making peace amongst themselves; an issue which was an obstacle in previous negotiations. In the previous negotiation when Mr. Mahmood Abbas was negotiating, these talks were not supported by Hamas. Hamas' lack of support for negotiations showed that these negotiations had no value from an international aspect. But if today we see that the issue of becoming a non-member state in the UN has succeeded and is proposed as a general Palestinian achievement, it is the result of the domestic consensus of the Palestinians and the support of other countries.

The same trend must be pursued about achieving peace. It means that if any Palestinian is supposed to enter the peace process and negotiate in this regard, he must naturally have domestic support. Negotiating for a national issue needs national determination. Today, with the agreements made between the Palestinian groups, this national determination has attracted the attention of the Americans and they assume that this domestic consensus can advance negotiations. The same issue has caused some hope to be created among Israeli officials. The fact that Israel’s radical government is under pressure from the moderates encourages the Americans to try their chances one more time to activate the peace process. Naturally, in this issue, the most basic problem and obstacle in the path of the Americans is their challenges with the Israelis over the issue of settlement-buildings and the type of negotiation and the extent of flexibility and respect that they are ready to consider with regard to the basic needs of the talks.

It seems that, with regard to the Arab revolutions, the Americans feel that they must pay more attention to this challenge and find a way to reduce these challenges and for the conditions to reach a more facilitating situation. It means that they should try to find a way to reduce the role of terrorism in these new developments. Or they could simultaneously fight against terrorism and at the same time ride on the wave of democracy-seeking and not be accused of not cooperating with the people. It seems that one of the goals of Obama's visit is to evaluate the conditions in the region and see if it is possible to both fight against terrorism and support the people.

Of course the Americans' gesture is that when new governments come to power, they express their global view with regard to different issues through visits to different regions. Today, the Middle East is paid more attention to globally and one must wait to see what Obama's policy about the Middle East will be in his second term.  

tags: palestinian arab peace middle east election obama israel

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