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).
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid