Monday, December 29, 2008

Obama Palestine policy

It will be interesting to see Barack Obama's initial policy for Palestine. He will clearly "inherit" the current mini-crisis over Gaza, Hamas' rockets, and Israeli attempts to eradicate Hamas, but that is only the starting point. Clearly Hillary will have a major role in carrying out policy, but it is not clear how far she can go on her own and how Barack's "plans" might conflict with her own thoughts. Not to mention that Joe Biden and National Security Adviser James Jones will be in the mix as well. While we can expect some rollback of the Bush policy of total support for an aggressive and one-sided Israeli policy, we can also expect that both Barack and Hillary have to cater to substantial Jewish pro-Israel constituencies from the get-go. One might hope that the U.S. would essentially return to the policies in force at the end of the Clinton administration, but there are the simple facts that Clinton was not being terribly successful at the end and many facts have changed since then. I simply hope that we see some "fresh" thinking, otherwise we will simply continue with endless "talks" and endless recriminations. Barack's Web site says only the following:

The Obama-Biden foreign policy will ... seek a lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from day one. They will make a sustained push -- working with Israelis and Palestinians -- to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.

At a practical level, Barack and Hillary have three problems on Day One: 1) defusing the Gaza mini-crisis, 2) figuring out how to get Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israeli territory, and 3) whether to continue the policy of labeling Hamas a terrorist organization and siding with Israel on its eliminination or whether to consider it to be one of the political players and negotiate or at least have some form of talks with it. And there is the question of Iranian influence with both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Longer term, the biggest issue is to recognize that Iran is a major player and major part of the problem and that improved relations with the so-called "Arab World" and the rest of the Middle East, especially Iran, is just as essential to bringing peace to Palestine as peace in Palestine is to bringing stability and normalized relations to the rest of the Middle East.

Although the incoming administration says that it supports a two-state solution, the current problem is that there are really effectively three states, with Hamas in Gaza effectively a state on its own. And then there is the fact that Hezbollah in Lebanon is effectively another "state."

I do in fact look forward to Barack Obama bringing some fresh thinking to the problems in Palestine. He has a bunch of first-rate players on his team. It will be interesting to see how he leads that team. The big question right now is whether they start with some positive progress right out of the gate or stumble and blunder for a number of months before finally hitting their stride. I would suggest the former is most likely, but the latter is certainly possible.

Another issue is whether it is best to push for a lot of rapid initial progress or whether it is better to go slow and let  the region simmer for awhile but gradually dial down the heat. "Confidence building" may be a key part of the process, so the latter may be more likely. So, I would look to a lot of low-key talks behind the scenes rather than any public big push in the first six months.

-- Jack Krupansky

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