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Obama tries candid approach to Mideast peace

Update: May, 27/2011 - 10:42
by Chu Lan Huong

Last week, US President Barack Obama outlined what he called a ‘new approach' to the Middle East and the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the speech, the president reviewed US policies towards the region, which has played important role in the country's foreign policy for many decades.

Obama called on Palestine and Israel to resume the long-stalled peace talks and told Israel it should pull back to the borders which existed before the 1967 war.

"The core issues of the conflict must be negotiated and the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine and a secure Israel," said the US president.

According to analysts, this is a new approach in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has cast a shadow over the region for decades.

"What America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples, Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition and peace," said Obama in his speech.

Although, the US has played a role as a mediator in the peace process, Washington in the past has avoided publicly mentioning the 1967 borders.

Obama's declaration has received a positive reaction from both the domestic US and international communities.

Former US congressman Robert Wexler, president of the S Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, told AFP that Obama's declaration amounted to a "moment of truth" for Israel and the Palestinians.

He said Obama had become the first US president to state that the conflict should be ended "with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and that the 1967 lines – with agreed territorial swaps – will be the basis of the resolution".

However, Obama also made clear he would support Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's determination that a future Palestinian state be "non-militarised".

There was considerable debate inside the administration as to whether making such bold statements on the peace process was a good idea, but in the end, Obama made the call himself and did so because he thought such language was necessary to give credibility to his overall regional policy, according to Wexler.

"It certainly was a difficult decision, but ultimately the president determined that a call for reform in the Middle East and an American proscription for engagement with the Arab nations would seem hollow if [Obama] did not provide direction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well," Wexler said.

The United Nations, the European Union and Russia, who have been trying for nearly a decade to promote a Mideast peace settlement, welcomed the President Obama's "vision" for achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Members of the Quartet (UN, EU, Russia and the US) agree that progress in dealing with borders and security issues could eventually lead to a final resolution of the conflict through serious and purposeful talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and mutual agreements on key issues," said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Reuters: "the position of the EU and the US is now much closer on that subject."

The Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "on some of the key issues [Obama] was very much on the European line". He criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rejection of the 1967 borders as "indefensible". Bildt said there were no defensible borders in the Middle East. "The only defence that is possible is peace," he said.

Contrasting opinions

However, there are contrasting opinions about the so-called new vision of president Obama on the Arab-Jewish conflict.

Analysts focussed on two main issues – the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Affairs, told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that Palestinians want the Arab-dominated East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state while Israelis have maintained that their capital of Jerusalem can not be divided.

To fulfil this proposal, Israel would have to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied after the Six-day War in 1967.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has highly appreciated the efforts of the President Obama to resume negoations with Israel.

He has also expressed his hope that Israel and Palestine would reach compromises in the near future.

Other analysts said Obama's speech, which is called a new US vision on the Arab-Jewish conflict, aimed to only satisfy the Arab community. However, this comes after decades of US administrations pandering to Israel's demands.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Obama's proposal on borders. Speaking at the US Congress, Netanyahu said Israel could give up some settlements but not return to the 1967 borderlines and a shared Jerusalem.

He said Israel was willing to make compromises for peace, but made clear he had major differences with the US over how to advance the long-stalled peace talks

Peace cannot be reached overnight, but with strong efforts people still hold the hope of a future peace deal.

"The world is moving too fast," said Obama. "The extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow. Delays will undermine Israel's security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve." — VNS

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