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The Upcoming Swing Through The Middle East

So what’s on the Middle Eastern agenda for the Obama administration?

Frankly that’s the question being asked by a lot of foreign policy watchers right now, especially since President Obama has added Saudi Arabia to his trip itinerary for an upcoming trip to the area. Originally scheduled to first make a stop in Cairo for a speech, he is now stopping in SA first. This, of course, has the Egyptians a bit miffed. Egypt was touting his trip and speech to Cairo as a sort of vindication of their foreign policy as well as their resurgent leadership role among Arabs in the area. Now that’s not quite as easy to claim.

So why is he adding Riyadh?

One group sees it as tied closely to the Israeli-Palestinian track, focusing on the Arab Peace Initiative and the coming unveiling of the Obama approach to Israeli-Arab relations. Another sees it as tied more closely to Iran, preparing the Saudis for the coming engagement (or confrontation) with Tehran.

I happen to think it is a little bit of both, but mostly tied to Iran. NoKo has popped a nuke (and we’re aware of the ties between Pyongyang and Tehran). Iran has fired a long range missile. Intelligence says Venezuela and Bolivia are providing Iran with uranium (which both deny). That requires a bit of a change in focus of the mission from one exclusively focused on Israel/Palestine. Iran has heated up and the Arabs are not friends of Iran, certainly feel threatened by them and darn sure don’t want to see Iran establish itself as a regional (and nuclear) power. SA would be a logical stop for discussions on that issue.

As to the Israel/Palestine question, Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine wonders:

… will he reinforce or challenge the “moderates vs resistance” frame which he inherited from the Bush administration? The Arab leaders he has been meeting, like the Israelis, are perfectly comfortable with that approach, dividing the region between Israel and Arab “moderates” vs Iran and Arab “resistance” groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. That’s the easy path. If followed it is likely to fail badly, destroy the hopes for change which his engagement policy has raised, and leave the region right back where Bush left it.

I think there is no question he plans to shake up the status quo. But how he chooses to broker “change” in the engagement policy, his change may face the same risk of abysmal failure other policies have produced. The Hill is reporting that Obama plans on challenging Israel’s plan to continue to allow West bank settlements to grow.

“Each party has obligations under the road map,” Obama said after referencing his meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama said he has been “very clear” on the need to stop settlement and outpost activity, and he also said Israel has obligations to ensure a viable Palestinian state emerges from the peace process.

Israel has rejected that portion concerning the settlements on the West Bank. That rejection came after the Netanyahu/Obama meeting in Washington DC.

Netanyahu has set out the Israeli negotiating position:

“The government of Israel under my leadership is committed to the political and international agreements signed by the governments of Israel, and we expect others to honor their commitments as well,” Netanyahu told the Knesset. “We want an end to the conflict, and we want reciprocity in the claims on both sides and their implementation. Unfortunately, in this we are also being innovative. We should not have to innovate; it should have been obvious. However, when we are asked to recognize our international commitments, I say yes, and I want others to respect their commitments as well.

“We are prepared to act, and we will take concrete steps towards peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu continued. “We also expect the Palestinians to take such concrete steps on their side, and it would be good if the Arab countries joined in the effort towards peace, and take both concrete and symbolic steps towards normalization, and not later, but right now. They are asking us to act now, and so the Palestinians and the Arab countries should also be asked to act now.”

Or shorter Israeli stance – if we’re required to live up to international commitments, the same demand must be made of (and accepted by, and acted upon) by others included in these negotiations.

Right now, one of the major obstacles to any such negotiations is not with the Israelis, but among Palestinians:

The Palestinian Authority faces its own challenges in brokering a peace deal, namely the split between Hamas and Fatah — and, therefore, between Gaza and the West Bank — that essentially renders a two-state solution a three-state solution. Since the violent splinter between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, the U.S. has dealt only with Abbas.

So does the US change its policy and actively enter into negotiations with a terrorist group in hope of brokering a reconciliation? The chances of such a reconciliation seem remote. And of course, the splintering within the Palestinians makes the talk of a “two-state solution” an exercise in unachievable rhetoric for the time being. Why should Israel enter into serious negotiations about such a solution when they are unachievable as it stands today?

This will be an interesting trip to monitor.

More to come.


Edit: Changed Ecuador to Bolivia – thanks for the catch, looker.

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10 Responses to The Upcoming Swing Through The Middle East

  • It will be another American apology tour.  Plus he will let Israel know that they are on their own if they attack Iran.

  • I’m cautiously optimistic about a change in the Palestinian-Arab relationship.   Netanyahu has hardliner credibility (like “only Nixon could go to China”), and I’m not sure how united Hamas is at this point.   It could be interesting.  It is a good test of how this administration will approach these issues.

  • Does either Ecuador or Venezuela actually produce uranium? After searching I could only find production figures for Brazil and Argentina on the internet. Until someone provides me with some information indicating that they produce any, I think I will be a wee bit skeptical of these claims.

    • I’m trying to imagine Israel making these claims for giggles and grins.  Not likely.
      And it’s Boliva they’re claiming is involved, not Ecuador.


    Info on South American nations & Uranium.

    • According to your link  Venezuela has an agreement to explore for and develop uranium deposits, which indicates it does not currently produce any. Bolivia seems to have some deposits, but no production yet.

      According to the CIA neither possesses uranium yet.

      Info on world uranium production & resources.

      • Yes, and it also noted that the Russians have entered into an agreement with Fat Hugo’s government about developing a nuclear infrastructure.

        You can probably guess where my mind wandered with regards to Uranium that might find it’s way to Iran from Venezuela , and where that Uranium might have originated, and even, how remarkably pure it was when it arrived in Tehran’s facilities.

        I can’t figure what advantage the Israeli’s get out of making things up though.  Unless by doing so they figure it provides a plausible excuse to strike Iran (how many more do they really need?)

        Over all, I’m really having a hard time thinking they’re going to do that based on a story similar to Nigerian Yellow Cake and Iraq’s presumed WMD, especially after the way it worked out for us.
        Hence, I tend to believe there is probably fire somewhere in the Venezuelan/Bolivian  smoke.

  • I know why The Clown™ scheduled Saudi Arabia into his schedule!

    He remembered that he did not FULLY bow to King Abdullah last time, and he wants to make up for that by doing it properly this time, with the ring kiss and all.

    Plus, The Clown™ can finally make that solitary visit to Mecca that his religion dictates. But will Mrs. Clown™ wear a burqa the whole time? Them there’s the question!

  • Obama will apply maximum pressure on Israel and not much on the Arabs / Iranians. He will be surprised when the Israelis don’t cave in. End of story.

    The three key points to remember are:

    1. Negotiating with the Palestinians never works because no one organization has a monopoly on the use of force. Thus you get an agreement even with Hamas and Fatah (not likely) but some new jumble of alphabet soup will spring up to continue the jihad. Thus negotiation is a bit pointless.

    2. The Israeli’s have nuclear weapons and don’t need US support as much as we think they do, especially if they feel Iran is an existential threat that Obama is not taking seriously enough. (to be fair, I don’t think any US president could take Iran seriously enough as a threat since they are not an true existential threat to the USA.)

    3. During the previous peace processes, did Iran or Syria become more open to Israel? No. These regimes need external enemies to keep a lid on their people, much like Cuba uses the blockade as an excuse. I see little reason for them to “make peace.”

  • addendums:

    1.a. The wall has worked in preventing suicide bombings. So again, any peace deal would only stop the rocket attacks which are far less deadly. Israel does not need peace with the Palestinians as much as the rest of the world does.

    Why do I say Obama will apply maximum pressure on Israel? Because many on the farther left people I know think peace would be easy as pie if we just threaten the Israelis enough to cut funds that the settlements are the biggest issue, etc. Oh, and the Israelis should just suck up civilian casualties and not retalliate because they are evil and deserve it, and  so we can all forget about this distraction and get back to healthcare and taxes. (a bit too much of a parody?)