Barack Obama has begun the obligatory second-term responsibilities of an American President by visiting the Middle East and discussing peace. The President is attempting to do what all American Presidents seem compelled to do during their second term – solve the Israel/Palestine problem.
Unfortunately, history tells us that all such attempts result in little more than a chummy photo of an American President shaking hands with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The world then proclaims a ‘lasting peace’ – but the trouble rumbles on unabated, with the incoming President feeling confident that he shall succeed where others have failed.
Obama has the unenviable position of being a President who is not entirely trusted by either side. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Mr Obama has been unsympathetic to the Israeli cause. Indeed, Netanyahu actively made overtures to Barack Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in the run-up to the 2012 election. On the other hand, President Abbas feels that Mr Obama has not been the friend to Palestine that he initially positioned himself as. This has created a difficult atmosphere for the President’s trip to the holy land. The rhetoric from both sides has not been particularly cordial.
This, however, is the problem when countries seek to paint themselves as arbiters between two warring factions. Neither side will trust that you have their best interests at heart. The main reason behind this is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians believe that their cause has the absolute moral authority.
Israel sees itself as fighting for its mere survival against enemies from all sides and feels that a strong and aggressive stance will deter neighbours that are intent on its annihilation. The Palestinians feel that Israel is a hegemonic aggressor that has stolen their land and holy sites.
Barack Obama’s ‘middle ground’ strategy of taking a view in between these two extremes is, in reality, pleasing no one. A third party must also be added to the discussion – Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza strip. But Israel will not negotiate with Hamas because they deem them to be terrorists. Even if Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas can come to an accord on a two-state solution, Hamas will still exist as an anti-Israeli aggressor. If a solution is reached that is deemed unsatisfactory by the Palestinians, then Hamas could make inroads in the West Bank.
President Obama must realise that the task ahead of him is monumental and that there is no obvious solution to solving the crisis in the Middle East. If he is to be successful then he must pull off an extraordinary feet – forge a compromise for two sides that feel a deal is beyond reach.
The only viable solution now is a two state solution, and it is believed that both Abbas and Netanyahu accept this. However, this is unlikely to satisfy Hamas, who can no longer be ignored as a political player. The Northern Irish problems were only alleviated when Sinn Féin were brought to the negotiating table. They now sit in a power sharing government with the DUP.
If Mr Obama is pragmatic, and if he is prepared to be equally hard on both sides, then perhaps he can succeed where others have not. It is unlikely, however, that a lasting peace can be achieved in the short term.
But if it can, this would enable a meaningful dialogue to be constructed that would involve all parties working towards a mutually beneficial solution. This would mean that President Obama would have achieved far more than a photo opportunity.
This is all perhaps a fool’s hope. But we must have hope if we are to one day see peace in the Middle East