First 100 Days: The next steps in the Middle East

By Reuters Staff
February 13, 2009

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Barack Obama inherits a distinctly gloomy outlook for progress in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is change really possible?

Reuters asked Oliver McTernan, the director a UK charity called Forward Thinking and two experts from the Brookings Institution in Washington — former Ambassador to Israel Martin S. Indyk and Kenneth Pollack — what steps the Obama administration should take next in the Middle East.

21 comments

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The policy of the United States has urgently striven for a two state solution between the Israeli and the Palestinians since the early nineties. It has caused unmeasurable havoc for the peoples of the area with absolutely no results. If President Obama will follow this well trodden road then he is assured of much ado with absolutely no success where the pressures of the area will mount and eventually become unbearable. What is desperately needed in the Middle East is a change of policy not the pursual of policies which have proved
unsuccessful. This is indeed possible, but only when one admits that the two state solution has not only been a catastrophe but holds the possibility of becoming an even greater menace in the future.

Posted by moshe P | Report as abusive

The Palestinian problem cannot be solved by the any of the current parties. A two state solution is not possible because the Palestinians cannot govern themselves; they cannot secure their borders or assure the rule of law- all “musts” for a nation state. Therefore, the world must look at the old “Protectorate” system instituted after WW I with some key modifications. Have the West Bank and Gaza become a Protectorate to help it learn and evolve into independent statehood in, let’s say, 30 years. The “Protectors” could be the moderate Arab nations under the supervision of a board of directors including NATO + Russia + China + India. A creative solution must be found by thinking outside the box.

Posted by George | Report as abusive

The israeli apartheid of palestine is sure to continue now that we the result of the israeli elections. a wave of right wing extremist are coming in.I think we all are aware of exactly what israel did to palestine under regimes that are labeled “centerist” and more for peace and ending the conflcits. With the israeli taliban now set to take control of the government we can be sure that that the massacres in gaza will contine, they will be more deadly and more destructive. at a time when the U.S is ready to be more pragmatic and rational in their appraoch and the willingess of the palestinians to accept any long term agreement, the israelis countered those 2 by “electing” its new regime. its is just a matter of time until israel attacks iran and in retaliation iran will destroy israel and we will see the beginning of WW 3.

Posted by sidney | Report as abusive

I enjoyed Mr. McTernan’s perspective. Sometimes it has seemed to me that the insistence to talk to Fatah instead of Hamas was really an insistence to postpone serious negotiations. I have the impression that Fatah is not really viable without the more charismatic and credible Marwan Barghouti at its head. Barghouti is in an Israeli prison. Maybe that is an apt metaphor for Fatah as a whole…

Posted by Winchester73 | Report as abusive

solution to palestine problem lies with israel because they are controling all the moves.they decide what people in gaza eat ,what they wear,where they sleep,how they move. everthing is controlled by them.we are as guilty as isrealies,as we seem to be watching and doing nothing much.suffuring of palestineans is vary real and when that time bomb bursts israel will have no frieds in this world.all thier wealth will be of no use. next episode of holocaust is written by israelis,who have power and means to bring peace in the middle east.

The idea of a two state solution is a smart spin; its not sincere To begin with, its not as if two states will be incorporated to bring peace – one for Isreal, one for the Paletinians. The time that this was a real proposition was in 1947/48; the fact on the grounds show that there is an Isreali state in existence. The only other question is whether there should be a palestinian state. The genius in couching the argument as a two state issue (missed by the palestinians) is that the Palestinians cannot recognise themselves for what they are – an indigenous people under brutal colonialism.

Does Isreal want to stop the colonialization? DOes the USA want to help Israel stop the colonilization? Have the Palestinians themselves shown a capacity to assist their oppressors to see the colonialism for what it is, thereby completing the recipe – for the truth is that it is only the oppressed that can free her oppressor, the oppressor cannot do it. To the three questions the answers are No, No and No. Lets focus on turning these Nos into yes yes and yes, then we may see peace and justice. Peace and justice. Peace and Justice!

Posted by abdul | Report as abusive

Is change, or compromise, or whatever you want to call it possible? Not when Israel takes over more land in the West Bank, not as long as Israel has Gaza walled up.

Posted by Robert M Kraus Sr | Report as abusive

indyk was recently exposed as promoting his book of half truths and falsehoods in a recent interview. anyone who places trust in his statements should first have a listen to the mp3 interview.

Former Amb. Martin Indyk vs. Author Norman Finkelstein: A Debate on Israel’s Assault on Gaza and the US Role in the Conflict
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/1/8/for mer_amb_martin_indyk_vs_author

Posted by jk | Report as abusive

The solution must begin with the admission that Israel is the main obstacle to peace. Its relentless expansion of settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank and the total siege of Gaza are evidence that Israel does not want peace.It is now spreading the fear of a nuclear Iran to further deflect international pressure toward peace. Israel is the only country that talks peace but does exactly the opposite. It is also the only country that complains of threats by its neighbors, but is itself actually destroying and actively threatening its neighbors.

Posted by Stephen Wong | Report as abusive

The two state solution is the only solution.

Israel has existed for over fifty years, while the very name “Palestine” remains a fiction. Israel has its own economy, its own fully functional government.

Israel is not going anywhere. And the West will not allow any solution leading to its destruction, even if it publicly chastises Israel for taking military action.

A one state solution is just a way to destroy Israel by stealth. Something that the supporters of the idea know full well.

The Palestinians have no claim on Israeli held land, no clout to dictate terms. It will accept what it has, or it will continue as it is.

Either way, Gaza needs the peace more then Israel does. Or they can pick war. Every time they do, Israel has another reason to bomb them and refine their military at the same time.

Posted by Spooky | Report as abusive

To all those referring to Israel’s “apartheid of Palestine”: wake up!

Had the Palestinians been willing to establish a sovereign state, they would’ve done it long ago – consider the Camp David talks, in which the Israeli PM at the time – Ehud Barak – was willing to satisfy virtually all of the Palestinians’ claims, save for the refugees’ return (which would mean the destruction of Israel as a Jewish democratic state).

Another example that comes to mind is the evacuation of the Gaza settlements in 2005. What exactly did the Palestinians do with this “gift of freedom”? For example, did they use the greenhouses left in the Jewish settlements to continue growing agricultural goods – or rather as missile launching sites? And frankly, even with Israel closing the border crossings (following weapons’ smuggling, by the way – and yet permitting humanitarian goods to enter): had the Palestinians used the smuggling tunnels to bring in food and medicaments, instead of weapons – wouldn’t they have been that much better off now?

And finally, a simple test for all of the “advisors”. If you can’t answer on more than a couple of questions, without using Google – please consider to obstain from expressing your thought on the Israeli-Palestinian related issues.

1. Who is the more pragmatic Palestinian leader: Abu Mazen, or Mahmoud Abbas?
2. Is Samaria located to the north, or to the south, of Shomron?
3. How many hours’ drive is the trip from Jerusalem to the Palestinian Autonomy?
4. After which historical site (which can be visited today) was the Temple Mount named?
5. Why does the Israeli government bar the Muslims from entering the Temple Mount?
6. During the “Cast Lead” operation, why didn’t the Israeli government allow the Palestinian refugees to cross the border to Egypt?
7. How would an Muslim citizen of Hebron react, if called a Palestinian, in 1940?

Posted by Alexander | Report as abusive

The sad fact is that the arabs would rather kill jews than live with them.

Posted by RFL | Report as abusive

Goodness knows Oliver McTernan is very knowledgeable about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and he undoubtedly knows the local politics in the Gaza strip a great deal, but he has conveniently omitted at least one key point that is seen as vital in the Israeli side. In 2005, Israel rightly left the Gaza strip in its entirety. While this was way overdue it was also a crucial overture for Israel. So who do the Palestinians of voting age elect later that year? HAMAS, which has never made secret its desire to destroy the Israeli state. Some analysts argue that this was a vote against FATAH corruption but I don\’t but that entirely; there were other parties to vote for besides either HAMAS or FATAH. Indoubtedly most Palestinians decided to return the favour of Israel\’s historic Gaza withdrawl by electing a government pledged to its destruction. Of course Israel would seal its borders–HAMAS has been responsible for many successful suicide bombing attacks in large metropolian areas. The Palestinians may have elected HAMAS but the Israelis did not and should not be obliged to accept a government commited to its destruction.

Mr. McTernan, Hamas IS \”an ideologically driven group of extremists who are determined to wipe Israel of the face of the map\”; the very few members of the party that are more pragmatic have long been shut out. Also, say what you will about Abu Mazen, but there was nothing democratic about Hamas routing Fatah members and taking over the Gaza strip; FATAH still won some seats and Mazen was still supposed to be the PM.

As for your claim that \”had Hamas been allowed to demonstrate good governance based on democratic principles and Islamic values\” you already know that this may be a dichotomy that is still being debated by political scientists the world over; democratic values may not mix with Islamic values. That\’s not to say that that\’s a bad thing, it\’s just that the two concepts may be incompatible.

Finally, your vague phrasing in the second to last paragraph is telling. \”Hamas must be seen as part of the solution and not the problem. The same applies to the political hardliners in Israel.\” From this context it sounds like you\’re encouraging negotiations with a very right-wing Israeli government but that\’s not what you meant now is it? It would be fitting if you did though as Hamas is clearly a \”right wing\” party by its own.

This is not to say that Israel is blameless; in fact I agree that their entire Gaza offensive last month showed to the world how ugly, inhumane, callous and indifferent the Israeli government can be simply because of the \”expiration of a ceasefire\” right before both the American inauguration. The claim that the IDF had no choice because Hamas was using \”human shields\” only goes to show how perfectly willing it is to rip through such a shield when it isn\’t Jews at stake. Nor would an Israeli government ever tolerate any of their own children slowly starving to death trapped with their dead mothers\’ rotting corpses. Of course there are whole other sides to this issue; I\’m just suggesting you\’re being naive about the intentions and desires of Hamas when negotiating.

To my point Eric – the (many) arabs would rather kill jews than live with them. Certainly not all arabs but enough to make people’s lives dangerous and miserable the world over. And this “jihad” can be considered to be part and parcel of this Palestinian – Israeli conflict as well.

And we don’t want to forget that the arab BAATH have their roots in German nazism of the ’30s. The roots of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians run far deeper than present Palestinian-Israeli politics and occupation.

Posted by RFL | Report as abusive

The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

$30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
$550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

Yes RFL but remember this: it is important to see people as individual human beings that can think, act and feel. I often ask myself this question: If I was residing in Gaza would I be happy or miserable? My honest answer would be that I would barely last a day there. In this context, it doesn’t matter if “the Palestinians” as a collective group may be responsible for their own misforune, the point is that each Gazan individual is living with a great deal of misery and pain. Imagine a 10-year old boy, for example, that has some kind of virus and is very sick and yet cannot be treated since no doctor can operate due to the medicine shortage. Then add in the extreme heat, the lack of space, food and fresh air and it would be enough to drive even a pacifict crazy, I’d think. A person in that situation is never going to say: “well we brought this on ourselves. Let’s all just accept our fate.” After the most recent seige Gazans have a lot to be angry about, even if collectively they continue to make poor decisions.

Israel may have successfully defended herself, but at the cost of whatever moral credibility she had left.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

To be sure life in Gaza is miserable – by design on the part of the Israelies. I would think Israel is making life so miserable for the Palestinian Arabs that they will abandon Gaza and the West Bank en masse for places elsewhere in the Arab world.

Posted by RFL | Report as abusive

As you are no doubt already aware, other Arab countries don’t want the Palestinians.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

Anyone who has a shred if decency would not talk about how the problem in the middle east brought on by the lack of education and civility, don’t wish to hard because you might get what you are wishing for, and then you will see the same people are organized, capable of making decisions intelligently, and realizing their economic and strategic powers, then we will note some different Arabs who do not need the outside world to dictate to them on why they should and should not do, Those educated Arabs will pool all resources and create such powers to be reckon with.
Mr. Idyk and his clans know sure well how to confuse the world over, if they are such smart pants as they claim how come the problem was not solved while they had the ears and pockets of the previous administrations.

Look, the problem is as simple as spooks’ brain, give the Palestinian people what you have stole, embezzled, and robed from them, and, they will leave alone.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Anyone who has a shred if decency would not talk about how the problem in the middle east brought on by the lack of education and civility, don’t wish to hard because you might get what you are wishing for, and then you will see the same people are organized, capable of making decisions intelligently, and realizing their economic and strategic powers, then we will note some different Arabs who do not need the outside world to dictate to them on why they should and should not do, Those educated Arabs will pool all resources and create such powers to be reckon with.
Mr. Idyk and his clans know sure well how to confuse the world over, if they are such smart pants as they claim how come the problem was not solved while they had the ears and pockets of the previous administrations.

Look, the problem is as simple as spooks’ brain, give the Palestinian people what you have stole, embezzled, and robed from them and, they will leave you the hell alone.

Posted by dan | Report as abusive

Although war is often advanced by a ruling party, peace when attempted must be pursued by national governments representing the people. Ultimately, peace must be proposed and advanced of the people, by the people and for the people. A peace which is not advanced in this manner can scarcely be considered a lasting peace.
The problem with the peace accords in the region since 1993 is that they have not been proposed by the people and for the people. Arafat pursued a type of war and peace which was for his advantage and did not consider involving the Palestinian people in this endeavor.
Any agreement with but a portion of the Palestinian people will not ensure a lasting peace. The present situation is that the pro-western Fatah party is incapable of enforcing their will upon the ruling Hamas and unfortunately the radical Hamas have no intention at this stage in forging peace.
For the above reasons the two state solution at this time will offer no options for diplomacy. This will continue while radicalism thrives and proper representation within the Palestinian people is lacking. Therefore, what has to be considered is the possibility of offering to those people presently represented by the Fatah party on the West Bank definite improvements in their quality of life; the package should include not only financial incentives but proper representation in an organized government which must at this stage be relegated temporarily with the State of Israel.
This situation if it can achieve real benefit for the peoples of the region should not be considered negatively on ideological grounds. The pragmatic benefits of some sense of statehood although limited when operated for the benefit of all greatly outweigh the evils inherent in a misdirected, radical and total nationalistic identity.
The upshot of this approach is that the Gaza enclave should be viewed as a separate entity and eventually as an independent state of the region; the realization of Palestinian statehood. The West Bank should be relegated as a self-governed area for an indefinite period of time closely connected with the State of Israel. It seems that under certain circumstances this is a pragmatic and viable option for the region. Even if this plan will not be adopted in the diplomatic efforts the actual positions of the parties will be pushing it forward.

Posted by moshe pavlov | Report as abusive

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