January 21, 2009
Barack Obama Embraces Middle East Roadmap of the Israel Policy Forum
Even before his first 100 Days in office began, President-Elect Barack Obama embraced the left-wing Israel Policy Forum's proposed "First 100 Days" roadmap for Middle East peace. On January 14, 2009, Mr. Obama made his first public substantive statement regarding his Middle East policy.
Announcing that his plan to resolving the violence between Israel and its neighbors will be a "regional approach" which will include engaging both Syria and Iran, Mr. Obama said he intends to act on his peace plan "from Day One" in office.
Fewer than two weeks earlier, the Israel Policy Forum issued a proposal urging the incoming-president to conduct an "activist" Middle East diplomacy during his first 100 days in office, with an immediate and regional approach to the violence in the Middle East. The IPF urged Mr. Obama to specifically and officially engage Syria and Iran in the process.
The IPF's roadmap names several fronts on which Mr. Obama should immediately move to kick start the stalled "peace process." The Forum blames the languishing process on what it calls the Bush administration's failure to vigorously pursue peace because of its "indifference to the worsening conditions in Israel and the territories throughout his term."
But the Forum did approve of at least one action taken by the Bush administration. The IPF bragged that it successfully urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to pressure Israel to hand over control of the Philadelphi Corrider crossing at the time of Israel's "disengagement" from Gaza. OF course, ceding control of that border crossing allowed Hamas to smuggle into Gaza the sophisticated Iranian weaponry that now threatens vast swathes of Israel, and which triggered the recent Hamas-Israel war.
In his first public speech as president, the IPF urged, Mr. Obama should announce he will help achieve a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors, and follow that up by laying out his vision for an overall peace between Arabs and Israelis in a speech within the next two months. Mr. Obama went one better and announced his goal even before he took office. The specifics of the new administration's plan will, presumably, follow shortly.
The blueprint for the IPF's suggested Middle East policy is the Saudi Initiative, chosen because of its unique goal to achieve an Arab region-wide peace agreement with Israel. The Arab League has endorsed the Saudi Initiative. That plan includes virtually all of the conditions required by the Arab Palestinians which Israel has repeatedly rejected, such as Israel's retreat to the 1967 armistice lines, inviting back Arabs who left Israel when it was reestablished as a state along with their millions of descendants, and ceding East Jerusalem to the Arab Palestinians for their capital. That plan has no provision relating to the more than 800,000 Jews who were driven from Arab countries in 1948.
The direct diplomatic engagement of and reliance on Syria should play a key role in Mr. Obama's peace plan, according to the IPF, in which the US should signal its readiness to do "whatever is needed" to enhance prospects for peace both between Israel and the Arab Palestinians and Israel and Syria. In addition, a regional envoy should be named who will visit with Israeli and Arab leaders. In fact, Secretary of State Nominee Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has already announced her intention to employ a similar emissary under her authority.
Engaging all of the Arab nations in the region and immediate activist diplomacy to foster a lasting peace are the essential elements of the IPF proposal. The IPF recommends that relations between Israel and its neighboring nations such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, should be part of the same Israel-Arab Palestinian peace process.
But isn't a fast-track for an Israel-pan-Arab solution an oxymoron? The surrounding Arab countries are either openly hostile to, or have powerful sectors of their population which are committed to the forcible removal of, all Jews in the region.
For example, Syria not only harbors the leadership-in-exile of Hamas, but is also a puppet of Iran. The role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Cairo's fear of the Brotherhood's ascending popularity make Egypt unlikely to signal weakness in the Arab world by moving towards a stronger peace with Israel. The rising political control of Hezbollah in Lebanon limits the chances that Lebanon will cooperate in an official peace process with Israel. Finally, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are officially and virulently hostile towards Israel. Given the irrefutable facts on the ground, efforts to forge a comprehensive regional security plan would seem to dramatically undercut any chance of the new administration's attaining the IPF's fast-track-to-peace goal.
From all appearances, Mr. Obama embraced essential elements of the Israel Policy Forum roadmap to Middle East peace even before their first official date. A comprehensive, regional peace, particularly one achieved in short order, may prove harder to consummate.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a recovered lawyer and writes about the Middle East.