News / Middle East

Analysts Assess Chances of Progress on Mideast Peace Under Kerry

Italy Kerry
Italy Kerry
Cecily Hilleary
The U.S. secretary of state is currently traveling in the Middle East, and the president will be travelling there next month. But this time, neither John Kerry nor Barack Obama will be focusing primarily on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as secretaries of state and presidents have done so often in the past.

This time, Obama and Kerry will be dealing mainly with the more pressing issues of an ongoing and bloody civil war in Syria and a suspected nuclear weapons program in Iran.  That has left some analysts, as well as officials in the region, grousing that Washington may have lost interest in the Israeli-Palestinian impasse after almost 40 years of trying without success to broker a peace accord between the two sides.

Others, however, argue the U.S. is as committed as ever to Israeli-Palestinian peace and believe Secretary of State Kerry will use the trip to lay the foundations for renewed peace talks. Among them is Ziad J. Asali, president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine based in Washington, DC.

“Both the president and the secretary of state are very aware of the complexity of the present situation, the degree of tension that presently exists between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the huge fragmentation - not just within Palestine and Israel internally, but also across the Arab landscape,” Asali said.  “So they know they are walking into a situation that would not lend itself to immediate solutions. 

“I think both of them are expressing, essentially, the most important message to be delivered, which is that Palestine and Israel are high on the president’s agenda, and the administration is committed to dealing with this issue,” he said.

Asali says he is convinced John Kerry can do the job. 

“The Secretary of State is a fresh new figure, new but not old.  He is someone who has been involved with foreign policy issues for the last three decades…and he is knowledgeable about the games and the players in the Middle East,” Asali said.  “He clearly is the point man on this effort.  The president has the whole world to contend with, as well as priorities within the U.S., so this is going to be an issue that will belong to the secretary of state.”

Impediments to peace

An explosion and smoke are seen after an Israeli strike in Gaza November 15An explosion and smoke are seen after an Israeli strike in Gaza November 15
x
An explosion and smoke are seen after an Israeli strike in Gaza November 15
An explosion and smoke are seen after an Israeli strike in Gaza November 15
Maybe so, but Kerry faces some tough obstacles.

“There is no clear leader in Israel now, and the Palestinian leadership is fragmented,” Asali said.  “Hamas is outside the circle of influence of the Palestinian Authority altogether.  So these are not the best possible partners with whom to engage in serious negotiation.”

The most difficult challenge may be the one rarely discussed - what Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations and Middle East Studies at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, calls “psychological resistance.”  By that he means the historic, political and religious narratives that have made it very difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to relate to one another.  Understanding their respective “mindsets,” says Ben-Meir, is key to breaking through the impasse.
 
Historic

“The Jewish experience in the diaspora throughout the centuries, even the millennium, specifically in Europe, where we had the persecution, anti-Semitism and the expulsion, culminating with the Holocaust, has created such an image in the mind of the Jews and removed any semblance of trust between them and the rest of the international community,” Ben-Meir said. “What you see in Israel is the utter and complete distrust of the Palestinians because Jews say that what happened 70 years ago can happen again.”

Palestinians also carry scars based on the traumas of their own past. 

“They fear what happened to them in 1948 with what they call al-Nakba - the “catastrophe.” That was the year the state of Israel was established and fought a war with its Arab neighbors. In the process, tens of thousands of Palestinians found themselves homeless.

And that, says Ben-Meir, is embedded in the Palestinian psyche and it cannot be mitigated by simple conversation. 

“From their perspective, they have also suffered tremendously because of the Israeli incursions into their territory,” Ben-Meir said.

Religious

Religious convictions further complicate the issue.  A case in point is Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their holy city and capital. 

“The Israelis believe that Jerusalem ought to remain the eternal united city of the Jewish people, of the state of Israel, and that it cannot be divided,” Ben-Meir said.

“At the same time, the Palestinian connection to Jerusalem is also based on religious conviction that the Prophet Mohamed, on his way to heaven, passed through Jerusalem, and this is where the Dome of the Rock was subsequently built.”

Ben-Meir says these narratives have been reinforced for decades by public and religious leaders, in the media and in schools, generation after generation until they have become so ingrained that Israelis and Palestinians have naturally become resistant to any kind of change.  He says a resulting cult of “victimhood” on both sides prevents them from being able to understand or feel compassion for one another.

Breaking new ground

US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
x
US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
​But Ben-Meir says the impasse is not insurmountable.  “First of all, I think President Obama himself needs to commit himself to the process, and we have doubts as to whether President Obama will be willing or able to do so.” 

Second, Ben-Meir says the U.S. must actually go to the region with a specific framework for peace based on prior agreements.  Third, the Washington should be ready to use pressure and coercive measures against both sides and remind Israel that peace is central to Israel’s survival as a Jewish democratic state.

Ori Nir is spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. that says peace is necessary for all parties, including the U.S.

“I think that the first assertion that the United States has to make is that the U.S. has clear national security interests in Israeli-Palestinian peace -- i.e., ‘This is something that we, America, want, and you guys owe it to us’” Nir says.

He adds that the Washington also must work to establish an atmosphere of trust. 

“President Obama started that four years ago, when he went to Cairo and spoke directly with the Arab public, but failed to deliver a similar message to the Israelis,” Nir says.

“The fact of the matter is that if you want to have a credible peace process going, if an Israeli prime minister wants to come to his public and say, ‘I need your support when I go into this,’ you need Israeli public support.”

Nir is optimistic that Israel can be talked into major concessions.  “Israelis turn on a dime, and we’ve seen it before.”

If the Israeli prime minister stands before the public and says, “The time has come to do it,” Nir says, “The people will follow.”

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yesh Prabhu
February 28, 2013 6:48 PM
I read this article with great interest because of my dream and passion to see an independent and sovereign Palestine established at last. All the three men you have quoted make some valid and good points, and I wish to add my own views on the matter.

The primary requirement to bring peace to the region is : Honesty. America should admit that it is not. and has never been, an unbiased, honest broker of peace. It has been a blind supporter of Israel and its abominable policies for over forty years now. If Obama is genuinely interested in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, let him do what Mahatma Gandhi did to achieve freedom for India from the abominable British occupation. Gandhi said peace must be based on justice; there can never be peace without justice. One must be willing to do what is right, just, and moral. These three things are not only inextricably linked together, they are the basic necessities, requirements, to establish peace in the region. Obama should look at his own strong, pro-Israel views and anti-Palestine biases and actions (remember his shocking pro-settlements veto and threats to veto some pro-Palestine proposals at the UN Security council?) and reflect and ponder on them deeply.
He should ask what Mahatma Gandhi would have said and done, and what Rev Martin Luther King would have said and done. I believe he knows the answer. What he lacks is courage and moral conviction. He is beholden to the mighty pro-Israel lobbies. When he decides to cut off the shackles that the pro-Israel lobbies have put on his ankles, and gathers some moral courage to face them, he will be able to resolve the conflict. After all, civilized people of the world joined hands, enforced sanctions and brought down the apartheid regime of South Africa. The apartheid regime of Israel can also be brought down if the leaders of the world take principled, moral actions.

Until now Obama has shut his eyes to the sufferings of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Will he finally open them and see what Israel has done? Will he see the shocking, sprawling rows and rows of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestine?

Let there be peace on earth. People all over the world, even in Palestine, deserve to live in peace, and with dignity, and they have an inalienable right to experience the joys of living.

Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs