A Last Chance for the U.S. in the Middle East

A Last Chance for the U.S. in the Middle East

Presenting an early yet strong favorite for the deja-vu-quotation-of-2010 award, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday called for a robust revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Clinton, speaking with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, called on Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to address sticky issues such as borders and the status of Occupied Jerusalem, and many bold words such as “deadlines” were uttered. 

Reality, however, is that the contours of what must be the final peace deal – also resolving the key points of right of return and water rights – have been known for decades. The work on laying out the details and unavoidable compromises was done a long time ago by other people, many of whom have died or left the political scene during years of agony and little progress.

But the dynamics of the situation in the region have changed, and this latest push to resuscitate negotiations, despite its overworn phrasebook, does appear to represent something new: a potential last chance for the US to hold its position as guarantor of the peace process before key players abandon it in search of other paths.

The reputation of the US here was brutally tarnished during the Bush years, and the mountain of blank checks he signed for Israel obliterated any remaining notions that the US could ever be an honest broker in peace talks. When Bush, already a walking piñata, convened the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007, it would have been almost impossible to find a human being in the Middle East who thought the meeting would produce any step toward peace between Israel and Palestine.

Despite the formidable aura of President Barack Obama, many in this region will still view this newest call as nothing but a perfunctory exercise in diplomacy, certain to fizzle out and leave the various participants where they stood before the campaign began. 

The situation in the region, does not allow this initiative to dissolve into yet another photo op. Arabs have begun to look elsewhere for new approaches to the peace morass. Players who have traditionally had good relations with US, such as Yemen President Aballah Ali Saleh and the leadership of Turkey, are now hedging their bets, keeping their options open in case the US fails to deliver yet again.

With the US-Iran showdown reaching a climax and Yemen a mess, however, failure under these circumstances could decisively alter the power equation. The US would appear to more and more Arabs as a paper tiger. If the US loses its credibility as a guarantor for the peace process, it could mark the beginning of a new era that would take the Middle East far longer to achieve peace than the road map we have in hand, whatever its imperfections.

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More Editorial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . »Politicians, your play time is over »The West must cut its terror ties »Where's the Gulf in Yemen? »Venezuela's Chavez accuses Colombia, US of rebel plot »Waiting for Obama in 2010 »A misguided US policy in Yemen »Watching the Iranian calendar »A Lebanese Christmas Carol »Nasrallah's call to psychological war »Why minarets shouldn't matter »Time for a new perspective »A bittersweet celebration

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