Netanyahu visits Obama

America has an ambiguous Middle East policy.

President Obama was elected to introduce change in America and Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected to preserve the status quo in Israel. When Obama receives Netanyahu on July 6, the two leaders will try their best to communicate in harmony. Their last meeting in March was problematic, and their early June encounter was canceled by the bloody events of the Gaza flotilla.

The US president is frustrated with Israel’s intransigence, but he is unable to express his sentiments publicly. He is thinking of next November’s mid-term congressional elections; Jewish electoral support for Obama has always been critical.

As a convener of the peace process, the US is feeling the pressure from both sides. Israel expects America’s support of its occupation policy while the Arabs feel cheated by America’s tolerance of injustice and unfulfilled promises.

Views differ on security. President Obama and his national security team believe that independence for Palestinians is a requirement for lasting Israeli security. In contrast, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government seem to believe that a devastating military blow to Iran and Hezbollah, and Syria if needed, would establish a stable regional context for dealing with the occupation of Palestinians and their growing national aspirations.

Proximity (indirect) talks between Israel and Palestinians have worsened rather improved the level of confidence. The US wants Israel to discuss final borders of a future Palestinian state and other major issues of the conflict (refugees, Jerusalem, settlements) but Israel has been slow in responding, insisting that Palestinians are not ready for full independence and Iran’s threat remains its primary security issue.

As the talks stall, the corrosive engine of the occupation continues to generate harm to the innocent. Israeli building in Arab East Jerusalem is about to resume. If the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, would have his way, more Arab homes would soon be demolished for what is dubbed as “urban development”. The temporary 10-month freeze of building settlements in the West Bank expires on September 10. The government threatens to “transfer disloyal” Arab Israeli citizens and Palestinian legislators residing in East Jerusalem.

Brutal force does not solve political problems. Gaza is back in the frontline of Middle East news. Debate rages over how to investigate the attack on the flotilla and to control Gaza borders. Confusion lingers on how to involve Hamas - which controls Gaza internally- in the peace process. More dilemmas: how to make a deal with Hamas on exchange of prisoners? For four years, Israel has been conducting off and on secret “proximity” talks with Hamas to gain the release of its captured soldier, Gilad Schalit.

As peace talks drag Both Israelis and Arabs lose faith in the process and become hardened skeptics. Two thirds of both Israelis and Palestinians do not believe that political conditions are conducive to the creation of a Palestinian state within the next five years. Further, a recent poll shows that, on each side of the conflict, only about half of the respondents accept the two-state solution. As for the one state solution about one fourth of Palestinians would chose this option. This poll was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace; the findings were reported by Noah Rayman in an article titled, Joint Poll Shows Doubt Abound Over Palestinian State, The Jerusalem Post, June 30.

And as the peace talks falter, Israel’s regional and international status weakens. After the Gaza flotilla attack, Turkey has turned from a close ally of Israel to a suspicious partner. World attention to the alleged nuclear threat of Tehran has been diluted by the growing concern over the Israeli siege of Gaza. The prestige of the US - Israel’s closest ally- role in mediating the Middle East conflict has declined as Turkey is winning the hearts and minds of Arabs.

Palestinians are discerning on the merging role of Turkey. In the Israeli-Palestinian poll cited above, Turkey, not Syria or Iran, is viewed as a strong supporter of Palestinians: 43 % of the surveyed Palestinians trust Turkey, vs. only 6% who trust Iran or Syria as significant promoters of Palestine.

Obama would do well to ask Netanyahu the following question:

After the counterproductive outcome of the war on Hezbollah in 2006, the morally questionable 2009 attack on Gaza and the current international outcry over the recent Flotilla incident, is Israel ready to face the consequences of a new pre-emptive strike on Iran?

Good luck Mr. President on July 6. The US has never looked as helpless in its Mideast policy.

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About Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz

Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst with special interest in political sociology, social justice and democracy. He is a former professor of social work and psychology. He was Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East during the eighties and early nineties. He also served Eastern Europe for six years from the Geneva office of Christian Children’s Fund. Between 2000 and 2005, he was the Washington Liaison Director of CCF. He is now focused on public speaking and writing on the Middle East. Over the last five years, he has contributed a series of articles to the Christian Science Monitor online edition, the Lebanese Daily Star and the Arab American News. Currently, Rubeiz is writing regularly from his home office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. His special interest is in politics and religion and in promotion of Arab American understanding. His maintains his personal blog at www.aldikkani.blogspot.com.

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