News / USA

US Middle East Policy in Obama's Second Term

US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).
x
US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).
US President Barack Obama approaches the podium in the East Room of the White House in Washington (file photo).
Mohamed Elshinnawi
As Barack Obama begins his second four-year term as president, there is renewed talk about U.S. policy toward the Middle East, especially about what might be in store for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The talk gained momentum when Senator John Kerry, expected to be confirmed next week as the new U.S. secretary of state, testified on Thursday that reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be one of his top priorities.

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing that he hoped the latest Israeli elections might open a window of opportunity to resume peace talks and that a two-state solution – creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel – was the key to progress on this front.

The possibility of renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks has been a topic discussed by Washington Middle East policy analysts for months now, alongside such issues as how the United States should deal with the civil war in Syria and other political upheavals that have grown out of the now two-year-old “Arab Spring” uprisings.

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.
David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the U.S. could start to move toward renewed talks by clearly stating its continued support for the two-state solution.

“The U.S. should also ask both Israelis and Palestinians to reiterate their public commitment to the principle of a permanent, peaceful two-state solution to their conflict,” Pollock says. He adds, however, that it would be a mistake for Washington to offer its own formula for a permanent solution just yet.

“I don’t think the U.S. should put a package now on the negotiating table because the parties are far apart on substance,” he says. “It would be a mistake to propose something that is probably doomed to fail.”

Other Middle East analysts disagree, urging Obama’s new administration to move quickly. One of them is Marwan Muasher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

“The choice now for the Obama administration is between the difficulty of achieving peace today and the impossibility of achieving it tomorrow” Muasher says. “The U.S. must commit itself to work through the Quartet [the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the U.S.] to bring about a speedy settlement of the conflict and put a package on the negotiating table before it is too late.”

The Arab Spring

Another challenge facing the new Obama administration is how to deal with the sweeping changes brought onto the Middle East by the Arab Spring.

Muasher says Washington should tailor its diplomacy to each individual Arab Spring nation rather than attempt a one-size-fits-all policy.  He also says the U.S. should avoid imposing political conditions on aid and trade because that could provoke strong nationalistic reactions.

David Pollock thinks that would be a mistake. “While we try as hard as we can to maintain our close ties with Egypt, for example, we have to tie our support, whether politically or economically, to certain requests like a continued Egyptian adherence to the peace treaty with Israel.”

A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.
x
A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter is seen taking a breakfast break during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus January 25, 2013.
Syria

Some experts believe a resolution to the civil war in Syria in intrinsically linked to Iran.

William Quandt is a former member of the National Security Council, influential Middle East analyst and professor at the University of Virginia. Quandt says Washington should quickly turn its attention toward seeking a diplomatic reconciliation with Tehran.

“The new secretary of state should find a reliable channel to Iran’s top leadership and start his own assessment of how to forge a new relationship,” Quandt says.  “A deal on nuclear capabilities needs to be a part of a larger package. If we could succeed, the benefits would be seen in places such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf region.”

Quandt, along with Pollock, expects Syria to be a serious challenge to U.S. policies in the Middle East because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, by many indications, will not be able to restore its power after almost two years of civil war and the Syrian opposition does not appear to be poised for a clear-cut victory.

Pollock describes the Syrian civil war as a tragic example of the Arab Spring gone terribly wrong. “U.S. policy will continue to be extremely cautious, so my advice to the administration is to realize that the situation in Syria demands a more active U.S. role because the risks are enormous for the region,” Pollock says.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More