News

New U.S. Middle East Envoy Wins Approval but Little Confidence for His Mission

Multimedia

Audio
America’s new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is back from his first trip to the region and will likely return there later this month.   He met with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and visited Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.  His week-long mission was billed as a “listening tour,” but was also intended to reinforce the new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

A British Perspective

British journalist Ian Williams says there is renewed hope for peace in the Middle East, partly because of George Mitchell’s prior success in negotiating a peace treaty for Northern Ireland.  Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Williams notes that, when Ambassador Mitchell was previously involved in the Middle East, “he did play the part of a even-handed broker in assessing the conditions in the West Bank, which is reassuring for the Arab side, even though some people on the Israeli side seem to find that a lot less reassuring.”

According to Ian Williams, the difference that the new Middle East envoy makes depends largely on “whether he has the full faith and credit of the Obama administration.”  Williams observes that Ambassador Mitchell is working under very difficult conditions.  “The Gaza incursion has probably reinforced Hamas’ hand.”  Furthermore, it has “added to the likelihood of Benjamin Netanyahu being elected [Israeli prime minister] because he benefits from an upsurge of militarism in Israel.”   Williams notes that the former Prime Minister refuses to accept the possibility of a Palestinian state, and he has said he will continue expanding West Bank settlements.  According to Williams, if Mr. Netanyahu is elected, the real test is going to be whether Washington is “prepared to allow him to rip up the U.S. plan with impunity” and whether President Barack Obama is “prepared to carry on giving diplomatic, military, and economic support to a government that defies him.”

An Israeli Perspective

However, polls published on February 6th in Israeli newspapers suggest the parliamentary race between Israel’s two largest parties – Likud and Kadima – is getting closer, while support for hard-line parties on the right - especially Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Is Our Home) - is growing.  Some regional analysts are predicting that it might be easier for Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party to build a coalition than it would for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who currently heads the center-right Kadima Party.  And that, of course, could alter the direction of peace talks with the Palestinians.According to Israeli journalist Nathan Guttman of the Jewish Daily Forward, Israelis were actually stunned by the speed with which the Obama administration moved.  He says “no one expected Obama to make his first phone calls in the Oval Office to Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert.”  Furthermore, “no one expected a Middle East envoy to be announced in the first three days in office and for this envoy to leave for the region within a week.”


Nevertheless, Nathan Guttman says expectations for the success of the new U.S. envoy’s mission are not very high – either in Israel or in Washington.  He says this is because Palestinian leadership is divided between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and because Israel is holding elections Feb. 10th that might result in a right-wing government.   However, Guttman says, “there is still a lot that [Ambassador] Mitchell can do – first, to help the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and to make sure that the new agreement about stopping arms smuggling actually works.”  And he can set out “guidelines for both sides” regarding Israeli settlements and security issues.  In fact, he can do a lot without reaching a final status agreement, which, in Guttman’s words, “now seems to be very far away.”

An Arab Perspective

Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBCTV), predicts the Obama administration will conduct the type of shuttle diplomacy not seen in the Middle East since the days of Henry Kissinger.  She notes that the priorities have already been outlined by Ambassador Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – consolidating a shaky cease-fire and concentrating on humanitarian aid to people in Gaza because “they cannot start a peace process as long as the situation on the ground is very fragile.”
 
Bilbassy also suggests that the prospect of a Likud government in Israel, led by former Prime Minister Netanyahu, could have a silver lining.  She says that some of her Israeli sources have told her that “Netanyahu does not want to be seen as the spoiler of the peace process and alienate a president [Obama] who is very popular in the world now, especially in the Muslim and Arab worlds.”  According to Bilbassy, Mr. Netanyahu might have to choose between prolonging the peace process, “as he did before,” – or negotiating.  She notes that the history of Israeli prime ministers shows that “you make peace with the right-wing governments in Israel and not the left wing.”  Bilbassy calls the current situation “very dynamic.”  In fact, the situation on the ground is the “gravest it has ever been” while the commitment of the U.S. government to peace in the Middle East appears “greater than it has ever been.”

Obstacles on Both Sides

Israeli journalist Nathan Guttman warns that – among some Israelis and some Palestinians – the pursuit of a peace agreement is not a priority.  “There are parties on both sides that wouldn’t like to see progress,” he explains.   But Guttman says there is a lot to be done without addressing some of the most difficult issues – “how the Palestinian Authority runs itself” and the “future of settlements on the West Bank.”

The one thing on which all sides agree is that the road to a lasting peace in the region will be both long and difficult to negotiate.


This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs