The dispatch of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Middle East in a last-minute bid to calm the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group in control of the densely populated Gaza Strip, was successful, but unlikely to immediately improve the standing of President Barack Obama or his administration in the region.
Arabs, now undergoing an impressive awakening, and all others in the Middle East, were hopeful that U.S. President Barack Obama would be more determined to bring about a much-needed settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during his second term.
Their hopes are attributed to his decisive re-election, which could empower him to pursue his short-lived attempt in the first year of his first term.
Now that he has been re-elected, new hopes have been generated that he might attempt a new peace initiative.
The feeling is that he can now challenge Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his American supporters who have apparently lost their crucial ammunition in the U.S. and Israel.
However, Obama this week talked about the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel as if unaware that it was the Israeli army’s assassination of the commander of Hamas’ military units, Ali Jaabari that triggered the Palestinian rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.
He defended Israel, which he described as an “ally”, saying while on his trip to Asia: “[T]here is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes.”
Israelis in the bordering region may have been intimidated by the heavy Palestinian bombardment in which five Israelis were killed.
But the weeklong Israeli counteroffensive, by air and from the sea, took the lives of some 130 Palestinians, including about 30 children.
The Obama administration also seems to have failed to realize that the Arab world today is very much unlike the Arab world of yesteryears.
A good number of the new Arab leaders and others in the Middle East have changed and are now answerable to their people. Nevertheless, the Middle East remains an important strategic asset to the U.S., deserving more attention.
In a letter sent to me, accompanying his new book, “Pathway to Peace: America and the Arab-Israeli conflict”, former U.S. ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer, underlines that “achieving stability and peace in the Middle East is among the most urgent American national security imperatives of our times.”
Kurtzer added: “In addition, Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish and democratic state and Palestine’s future as a democratic viable state depend on whether we rise to meet this challenge.”
At present the S. Daniel Abraham professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University, he wrote that he “came to understand the profound impact this conflict has on the region and on American interests, and how significant our role is in helping the parties make peace.”
The book includes contributions from American, Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian experts who have been part of the negotiating process over the past several decades, and is described as both “timely and passionate”, embodying “an original and urgent call to resolve the conflict.”
So, despite ceasefire agreement, the all-important point that should be included is for Israel to lift the blockade around the 224-kilometre Gaza Strip, home for some 1.7 million, and especially its port.
Israel, a nuclear state, is the strongest power in the Middle East; it ought to wake up because time is not in its favor. Likewise, the U.S. should be more forthright and operate even handedly.
(George S. Hishmeh is a writer for The Jordan Times where this article was published on Nov. 23, 2012)