The leaders of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are due in
Washington over the next three weeks. Their talks with President Barack
Obama reflect the importance the administration has placed on finding a
peaceful solution to the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict. But
Mideast experts differ on the president's chances for success.
Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, former Senator George
Mitchell, says conflicts are created by human beings and can also be
resolved by human beings. But a trio of experts at the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars in Washington believes time is
running out for even the most dedicated human beings to find a peaceful
The Obama administration is working on a new
approach to a comprehensive Mideast peace deal - a gradual process in
which a step forward by one side, such as a halt to new settlements by
Israel, is matched by a step from the other side, such as an Arab move
toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state. Aaron Miller, a
public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, says even with this fresh
approach, Obama needs to follow a proven tactic that produced
agreements in the past.
"Any American president, if he is
going to succeed in the Arab-Israeli negotiation, is going to have a
way of providing reassurances to both Arabs and Israelis, and
Palestinians as well," he says. "And in critical stages of negotiations
brings pressure as well. It is not just about pressure. It's about
reassurance and pressure, incentives and disincentives. [Former U.S.
Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger did it that way. [Former President
Jimmy] Carter did it that way. [Former Secretary of State James] Baker
did it that way, and if Obama is going to succeed, he will have to do
it that way as well."
The United States is pursuing what's
called the two-state solution - an independent Palestine living in
peace next to a secure Israel.
But Shai Feldman, director of
the Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, says
President Obama may have a difficult time reassuring Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a Palestinian state will not
compromise Israeli security.
"The problem we have is that when
people have the concept of a state in mind, they think a state has to
have an army; it has to have complete control of its airspace; it has
to have unhindered control over its exit and entry points. And given
Israel's security requirements, the Palestinian sovereignty would have
to be compromised. I can even see a situation where Netanyahu comes
here and says these things, and the president says, 'I don't see this
is necessarily contradicting the principle of two states.'"
Al-Omari agrees that the definition of a state is at the core of the
problem. But the former policy adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas says leaving the definition vague is a necessary diplomatic
"In terms of the Obama administration's concept of the
two-state solution, I think there isn't one specifically, and I think
that's the right position to be in. I think ultimately the two sides
would decide what is the two-state solution. The two-state solution is
the solution that is sellable to both publics. And I think the U.S.
should get its cue from the parties themselves."
experts agree that no breakdown in the Middle East peace efforts is
imminent, but Shai Feldman warns that failure to move beyond the status
quo could have dire consequences.
"If there is no progress and
there is more and more disappointments and disillusionment and a sense
that, in reality, things are moving in the direction of what Israel is
referring to as a "one-state solution," then I think the degree of
discontent among Palestinians would probably result in another wave of
That is the same warning given by Jordan's King
Abdullah, who is promoting an even bolder peace between Israel and all
the world's Muslim nations, and who met recently with President Obama
to discuss it. The price of failure in the Middle East is well-known,
and experts say that knowledge is driving the Obama administration's
urgent focus on moving the peace process forward.