Contrary to popular belief the “road map” for Middle East peace is not lost; it has simply been misplaced and seemingly forgotten. The recent about face of the United States in regards to halting the expansion of Israeli settlements, as a precondition for negotiations, is a major setback for any resolution to this conflict. If President Barack Obama wants his vision of a lasting peace agreement to come into fruition, then he must return to the principles espoused in his groundbreaking speech in Cairo barely six months ago.
It was there that he asked for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims, “one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” It was there that he said that we all shared common principle of “justice, and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” Yet by not following through on his earlier commitment to halt settlement expansion, an issue vital for the Palestinian hopes of establishing a viable state, he has forgotten these principles of justice and mutual respect that he so strongly promoted in Cairo.
By only taking into account Israel’s demands, the Obama administration has unfortunately re-established the Muslim and Arab world’s perception of the United States as an impartial broker. While their intent was to bridge the mistrust between all sides, they have unintentionally returned the situation to the untenable status quo.
It is time for the administration to remember the foundations of their foreign policy and return to the brave path the President was paving. The United States must stop the efforts of Israeli right wing elements from denying the Palestinians of their rights to a viable nation: Palestine simply cannot survive as a disconnected nation carved apart by illegal Jewish settlements. The administration’s values of justice must support the argument of both sides and the United States cannot see justice through the Israeli lens only.
In Cairo, Obama said that “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own,” yet Israel’s rights to peace and security are being guaranteed while stripping the dignity of their Arab neighbors. There will not be a lasting peace if the Arab world does not see a significant improvement toward their own aspirations.
Moreover, the administration cannot force the talks between Israel and the Palestinians to move forward without there being true understanding of mutual interest and mutual respect that Obama stressed upon in his Cairo speech. There cannot be a win-win proposition in the negotiations if both parties cannot enter negotiations from equal positions of power. As long as Israel’s right-wing government continues to entrench themselves and not show flexibility on issues, and as long as they don’t examine the mutual interests that can benefit both peoples, then the conflict will not be ripe for resolution.
The solution to the recent setbacks in the Middle East is to return to Obama’s inaugural foreign policy, and to reframe the conflict in more equitable terms just as he did in Cairo. Winning the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim world will need more than eloquent words. The United States must not tacitly approve the expansion of Israeli settlements and the administration must be firm about the ending of such contending practices. The United States cannot afford to further alienate the Arab and Muslim world and must follow through with tangible actions on the ground that will prove to all doubters that they are a sincere third party; and are truly listening. We know too well that changes do not happen overnight, but we cannot lose hope that there is a just and lasting peace on the horizon.
As Obama said in Cairo, we must be firm in our belief that “the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.”
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