Is there going to be calm after the storm in the Middle East? Following a tumultuous week of all-out war between Israel and Hamas, there are now good chances of peace actually catching on. However peace in the Middle East can only happen if the powers that be manage to grab the bull by the horns and build on the momentum created by the recent clashes which left 158 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.
Having agreed on a ceasefire and on indirect talks through Egyptian intermediaries, due to kick off in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday, the momentum is there. There is an undercurrent that can be pushed in the right direction, but it needs to be channeled and the antagonists need to be herded along, coaxed, caressed and yes, even bullied when needed. And this can only be accomplished by a country with the prestige and power of the United States.
Granted, these talks, even if successful, are only going to address issues of immediate concern to both parties, such as solidifying the ceasefire and putting a stop to the smuggling of weapons into Gaza and guaranteeing that another similar outbreak would not repeat itself again. However, so long as the core issues are not solved, there always remains the great risk of renewed violence.
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Of course the larger issue at hand, that of finding a comprehensive and acceptable peace plan that would move the process forward to finally resolve the Israeli-Palestinian core dispute, remains the challenge. Those include finding an acceptable formula to solve the conflict and the cause of several Middle East wars. That is going to be the real challenge.
Core issues include the final borders of the future Palestinian state, the question of the status of Jerusalem, a city contested and claimed by all as theirs, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. This is where previous leaders have faltered and failed. And of course the main thorny issues of the continued occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, the recognition of a Palestinian state by the international community and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist by the Arab world. None of these points are not going to be addressed. They should be.
Almost every American president since Richard Nixon has tried and failed to deliver on the Middle East. With the exception of President Jimmy Carter who managed to pull off the Camp David Peace Accords, accords that led to Egypt signing a peace treaty with Israel, the rest of the presidents have never been able to accomplish much. But big goals begin with baby steps. Now that he is secure in his second term President Barak Obama should resume his failed attempts which he had started at the beginning of his first term, and try once again to build on this ceasefire.
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There are very good reasons why the Obama administration should proceed with utmost urgency in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As the last round of fighting has demonstrated the post Arab Spring Middle East is a very different place than the Middle East of a month ago. As Egypt’s new Islamist president Ahmad Morsi stated on national television when Israel began pounding the Gaza Strip, “The Egypt of today is different from the Egypt of yesterday.”
Indeed, what emerged from the last round of fighting was the realization that today’s Middle East is a very different place. The opportunity is there and should not be lost. Failure to secure a lasting peace accord now, amid these historic changes will b e a heavy mistake. It is worth the investment in time and effort.
By Claude Salhani
Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.