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Obama Should Review US Middle East Policy

Clovis Maksoud writes about the state of US-Israel relations and the hope that the second Obama administration will pursue a viable peace process.
U.S. President Barack Obama is sworn in for a second term as President of the United States in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC January 20, 2013.   REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool (UNITED STATES  - Tags: POLITICS)

If what appeared in Haaretz on Jan. 15 is accurate — describing US President Barack Obama's assessment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — then Netanyahu is discovering what many all over the world already know about him. Despite this, however, Haaretz disclosed that President Obama will continue to pursue the same the policy on Iran: supporting Israel and shielding it from its violations of the Security Council resolutions.

I think these mutual discoveries about Obama and Netanyahu are interesting, but not surprising. The issue that the international community and Arab community alike should focus on is that the United States has to answer a fundamental question: Does it consider Israel an occupying power in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem? If that is not clarified, all these leaders' personal assessments of each other are interesting, revealing sometimes, but ultimately  inconsequential.

In 1967, did the United States consider Israel to be an occupying power? At that time, settlements would have definitely been a violation, as they continue to be.

If the Haaretz report is correct that President Obama did not want to appear bothered when he was informed that Netanyahu had established the Ma'ale Adumim settlement in the E1 area of Jerusalem, and that he told the people around him he had become "accustomed to this kind of behavior from the Israel PM," it gives the impression that he is indifferent to Netanyahu following his policy of "self-destruction."

What is important in this Haaretz report is that despite the provocation that Netanyahu authorizing these new settlements should have caused, there does not seem to have been any serious disposition on the part of the new American administration to undertake a serious reassessment of its declared policy of supporting a two-state solution to the conflict. Yet, the United Nations General Assembly's vote to recognize Palestine as a non-voting observer state shows the embarrassing isolation of the United States on this issue. Perhaps the new mandate given to President Obama might lead to an urgent and serious objective: an overall review of the United States’ policy on the Middle East in general, but especially on the pivotal issue of the legitimate Palestinian aspirations of statehood and rights. 

It is hoped that semantic acrobatics such as "freezing settlements" are no longer used and that the creeping annexations that are taking place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are confronted and stopped. If not, an opportunity will be missed once again, and Israel will continue to be a serious threat, not only to Palestinian rights, but to peace and stability in the region as a whole. This entails not only a serious reassessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also no longer considering the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty the cornerstone of US strategy in the region. The Palestinian and Arab hope is that during the second term of President Obama, a serious review will take place that leads to a viable peace process, and not to revive the "road map" which has proven to be anything but.

Clovis Maksoud is a former ambassador and permanent observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations and its chief representative in the United States for more than 10 years.

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