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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid