Obama on the Middle East: “Really Hard”

The president admits he may have underestimated the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

President Barack Obama listens during an economic policy meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, September 11, 2009
President Barack Obama listens during an economic policy meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, September 11, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

After President Obama delivered a much praised speech in Cairo, Egypt last year in which he called upon the Muslim world to end “the cycle of suspicion and discord,” his administration made little progress in the Middle Eastern peace progress. The president’s credibility with both Israelis and Palestinians “diminished” as his demand that Israel freeze settlement construction failed to bring about the desired result. Special envoy to the region George Mitchell promised to deliver peace in two years but doesn’t appear to have achieved anything concrete yet.

In an interview with Joe Klein of The New York Times, the president admitted that the “process has not moved forward” while Mitchell, he claimed, “got blinded” by the progress he saw from the Israelis, not realizing that it wasn’t enough for the Palestinian leadership.

“Even for a guy like George Mitchell who helped bring about the peace in Northern Ireland,” the Middle Eastern conflict “is just really hard,” according to Obama. The political situation in both Israel and the Palestinian territories made it “very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation.”

I think that we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that. From Abbas’ perspective, he’s got Hamas looking over his shoulder and I think an environment generally within the Arab world that feels impatient with any process.

And on the Israeli front, although the Israelis I think after a lot of time showed a willingness to make some modifications in their policies, still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures.

Had the administration “anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier,” it might not have raised expectations so high, said Obama.

He says he will nevertheless “continue to work with both parties” to recognize what he believes is “their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution.”

Comments

  • Pres. Obama doesn’t know how hard it is to move the peace process along because he has taken no action to move it, other than giving his Cairo Speech. Pres. Obama has leverage with Israel that he could use to move the peace process along, but he appeared to be too weak do this. Hope i’m wrong about Pres. Obama.

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