Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Obama, Gaza, and the coming peace process

Image Credit: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson (Wikimedia Commons)

Image Credit: Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson (Wikimedia Commons)

An Egyptian-brokered cease fire between Israel and Hamas has just been announced (and denied). Peace process soon to follow. Mark my words.

Hillary Clinton is winging her way to the Middle East today to address the growing crisis over Gaza. But if the (possible) ceasefire doesn’t hold, odds are that Israel won’t hold off on a ground invasion for long. Clinton will do her best to make sure it does, and will head for Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank (and not, notably, Gaza) to make her points. But even though a ceasefire and Clinton’s efforts might – let’s underscore might – avert a full-blown crisis in the region, today’s promised quiet will be little more than a temporary stop gap.

Yesterday, I laid out what Hamas was thinking in starting this war with Israel. It’s also clear that the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt will be walking a very fine line, pandering to its Israel-hating base on the one side and to the more conflict-averse and pro-Israel sentiments of its international donors, without whom Egypt’s economy will collapse (and with it the political prospects of the MB). Turkey, on the other hand, is playing a more dangerous game. True, the Turks are unlikely to involve themselves with more than gestures (Ankara’s hard line foreign minister Ahmet Davotoglu is visiting Gaza to fan the flames today), but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s willingness to make increasingly extremist demands of both Israel and the United States (Recognize Hamas! Force a two state solution!) bodes very ill for the future.

Ultimately, Hamas’ terrorist ambitions, Fatah’s plans to declare statehood via the United Nations, Egypt’s transformation, and Turkey’s growing extremism are – along with the ongoing Syrian war – going to derail Obama’s well-laid plans to skip out of the Middle East and “pivot” to Asia. Indeed, the president is quickly learning that while it is possible to impose a planned economy, it’s slightly tougher to impose order on the world. Or to put it more baldly, just because you say you’re going to pivot, doesn’t mean the world is going to cooperate.

There are serious long term consequences for the United States in the ructions now shaking the Arab world. The first is that if we are to maintain our alliances throughout the region, we’re going to have to maintain an increasingly robust military presence. With a shrinking military, that’s not going to be easy. But the Obama administration is also going to have to, you know, pay diplomatic and political attention. Unlike in Benghazi. And Syria. And Iraq. And Iran.

What does “attention” mean? More than shuttle diplomacy; it means starting to make clear to the Morsis and the Erdogans and all their fellow travelers that a good relationship with the United States requires honoring regional agreements, respecting minorities (women and Christians among them), and playing a constructive and not destructive role in the region. It requires playing ball with the United States in return for our support. It does not permit support for terrorism, egging on regional war, attacking one’s neighbors, or facilitating their attack by others. Those actions are incompatible with any sort of partnership with the US. At least, they should be.

But I suspect that’s not what the Obama administration is going to say. I suspect they’re going to heed the growing calls on the loony left and Islamist right for a revitalization of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to possibly include Hamas. I suspect Obama will do as so many of his predecessors have, which is give up on the real problems of the region – despotism, kleptocracy, terrorism, proliferation – and turn to that false panacea, the two-state solution. Because after all, once Israel and the Palestinians are at peace, there won’t be a reason for Islamist terrorism, secular tyranny, or nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Right? Right.

One thought on “Obama, Gaza, and the coming peace process

  1. Re Turkey: I’ve met Erdogan and have heard him make many sincere “promises”—if a mouth could have three sides, he’d speak out of all of them. We should propose a two-state solution for Turkey. A Kurdish state and a Turkish one. We’ll drop our recognition of an independent Kurdistan if his government stops trying to stir up trouble in Israel. The only game these people understand is hardball. Unfortunately, we have a president who is totally committed to the idea that appeasement will make America loved, and that love will conquer all. It must be so nice to live in such a wonderful fantasy world.

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