Monday, October 11, 2010

Obama and the Middle East


In April 2009, my friend Robert Krause and I took part in a series of televised current affairs programmes in London featured on the news channel Press TV. The show was called Forum, and was structured around audience participation and debate. Above is an excerpt from the episode focusing on 'Obama and the Middle East' and contains both mine and Mr. Krause's questions to the panel.

Robert Krause: "It's very possible that even according to some Israeli NGOs that actually the two-state solution has already been, or is about to be, buried just by the sheer scale of settlement construction, [and] bypassed roads in the West Bank, which have sliced up the territory and made a Palestinian State economically impossible; so how is Obama going to react to the death of the two-state solution and find other solutions (a single state solution or a bi-national solution)?"

David Ansara: "Do you think Mr. Obama will be able to adopt a more principled position towards Israel, rather than one that just solely protects Israel's interests?"

I do not believe that America solely protects Israel's interests, as I implied unsubtly in my question to the panel, but the country still remains the most important strategic ally for the US in the Middle East. This has not changed under President Obama, who has nevertheless bravely attempted to bring both parties to the negotiation table, albeit with limited success.

It will be interesting to observe how he reacts to the current thaw in the Israeli settlement construction freeze on the West Bank. Even if there is an extension of the freeze period, the issue could be sufficiently sticky to prompt the withdrawal of the Palestinian Authority from the present negotiations. Obama will have to use all his persuasive powers to keep them at the table.

Perhaps Mr. Krause is correct when he suggests that a unitary state within a single set of borders might be a better option than the two-state solution. I don't know for sure, but I still think that two sovereign territories along the 1967 borders would be preferable. However, if the Palestinians are left with a cantonized, segmented territory, then that might not be acceptable to them and a negotiated settlement could remain forever elusive. Alternatives such as the one expressed here by Mr. Krause should be seriously considered if both sides wish to see peace sooner rather than later.

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