Leading Article: A drive for Middle East peace that must not be written off

The US President's patience and determination deserve a response

Share
Related Topics

The Obama administration is easing itself into the summer recess with that least relaxing of undertakings: a push on Middle East peace. No fewer than four senior officials are currently in the region, starting with the special envoy, George Mitchell, whose itinerary also includes Syria, Egypt and Bahrain. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, the National Security Adviser, James Jones, and the special envoy to the Gulf States, Dennis Ross, are also passing through. If Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not fully grasp President Obama's message when he was in Washington two months ago, he must surely realise the seriousness of it now.

The message comes in three parts. The first is that there must be a Palestinian state. The second is that Israel must halt all "settlement activity", not only as part of any agreement, but as an advance guarantee that Israel wants a deal. And the third is that, if it is to last, any agreement must be accepted – and preferably underwritten – by the countries of the region, as well as Palestinian leaders and the United States.

Mr Netanyahu has difficulties with the first two, and reservations about the last, if it entails anything in the way of concessions to Syria – or worse, from his point of view – Iran. Even if he were inclined to be more flexible than at present appears, his room for manoeuvre is limited by the nature of his coalition. Nor should the problem of a Palestinian negotiating partner be underestimated. When Israelis ask how any agreement can be reached when such a gulf divides the Hamas leadership in Gaza from the Fatah government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, this is more than a debating point, it is real.

All of which is why so many, both in the United States and in Israel, are already dismissing Barack Obama's diplomatic push as doomed, even if they cannot quite bring themselves to describe it as a foolhardy waste of effort. In the recent past, Middle East peace has been a second-term presidential ambition, not one on which early political capital should be lavished. Admirably, Mr Obama has refused to be deterred.

From his first initiatives towards Iran, through his Cairo speech to the Islamic world, to the latest dispatch of envoys, he has insisted on seeing the region as a whole, and the Israel-Palestinian conundrum in its wider context. And he is right to do so, just as he is right to treat the possibility of a peace deal in the region as a US policy priority. At least part – though by no means all – of the reason why his two predecessors at the White House failed, was because they turned their attention to the region too late. They ran out of political capital and they ran out of time. Mr Obama's hand is strengthened because he still has plenty of both.

Not everything has gone his way. The fall-out from the Iranian election leaves his olive branch to Tehran in limbo. Mr Netanyahu, a grudging convert to the two-state solution, is stalling on the settlements issue, which is anyway more complex than sometimes appreciated. His fragile conservative coalition is hardly the Israeli government this US administration would have wished for. Doggedly, though, Mr Obama is pressing on. He has calmly recognised that Iran needs more time. He has advised Israel against precipitate action to pre-empt Tehran's nuclear programme. He has refused to take "No" for an answer on the settlements. Talks in and around Israel go on. It is an assured start and one that deserves not to be written off prematurely.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer - Hosted Telecommunications

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Ne...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor / Partner - Cheltenham

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: A very rare high level opportunity with a fir...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor of electronics...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client has a number of different bus...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kanye West performs live at the Brit Awards 2015  

UK grime is finally getting the recognition it deserves, but why has it taken so long?

Paul Gibbins
 

Jihadi John went to my university – so what?

James Tennent
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower