Obama’s new approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks leads nowhere

WASHINGTON, May 19 (Xinhua) — In a major foreign policy speech on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a borders-and-security-first approach to peacemaking between the Israelis and Palestinians. However, analysts say the outline will lead nowhere.

Obama called for the two sides to negotiate a two-state solution “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” making him the first sitting president to say that the final borders should be based on the 1967 boundaries.

On security arrangements, he said a future Palestinian state must be non-militarized, and the “full and phased withdrawal” of Israeli forces should be geared to the ability of Palestinian security forces and other arrangements as agreed to prevent a “resurgence of terrorism,” stop the infiltration of weapons and provide effective border security.

Obama acknowledged that the approach alone will not resolve the conflict as two “wrenching and emotional issues” will remain — the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

“But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians,” he argued.

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, disagreed.

He wrote that Obama’s approach cannot work, as the border is most in dispute near Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want the Arab-dominated East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israelis say the whole Jerusalem is their inseparable capital.

Besides, Obama suggested no action — no meeting, no envoy, no Quartet session and no invitations to Washington, Abrams noted.

Robert Danin, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that Obama’s detailed articulation of the terms for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement lacks a clear way forward.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for the Cato Institute think tank, noted that it has been the pattern since the late 1960s for the U.S. administration to invest great hopes in a breakthrough regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only to encounter severe disappointment in the end.

The Obama administration last put the Israelis and Palestinians together for direct talks in early September last year, but saw the talks collapse two weeks later.

“There is very little the U.S. can do to help solve this quarrel until both the Israelis and Palestinians become serious about reaching a compromise settlement. There is little sign of that happening,” Carpenter told Xinhua. “Instead, both sides continue to posture. Even if President Obama can prod the two sides into conducting a new round of talks, that round may prove as barren and futile as previous rounds.”

Michael O’hanlon, director of Research of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution think tank, said that Obama reiterated essentially “longstanding policy.”

“He just restated principles we all know and we know for a long time about the ultimate shape of the Middle East peace deal should look like,” he told Xinhua. “It is good that he tells the world that he is still thinking about this. But I did not see what can be accomplished as the result of that (the speech). There is no new initiative or new momentum coming out of that speech.”

More important, as Obama is seeking reelection in 2012, he will be less willing to pressure Israel to make concessions in any peace talks with the Palestinians to avoid angering Israel’s strong support base in the United States.

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