Monday, June 27, 2011

Obama doubles down on Middle East peace process

Friday, May 20, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama made a great attempt Thursday to align his country with the ongoing Arab revolution through a speech on the Middle East.
Obama’s emphasis on the “self-determination of individuality” as a new principal attracted my immediate attention and appeared to supersede the Wilsonian national determinism of the beginning of 20th century.
Obama unequivocally placed his bets on the pro-change movement this time and stated: "The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.”
Thursday’s speech at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., was the obvious sequel to the speech in Cairo, Egypt, two years ago, when Obama used a sort of an apologetic tone toward the Muslim world. Obama called the continuing Iraq War as “a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world” and made a significant effort to gain Muslims’ goodwill by trying to explain the motives behind the aggressive U.S. foreign policies of the last decade.
This time there was no apology. Obama appeared to be washing his hands of any ills that the Middle East has by claiming that colonialism ended a half-century ago. Obama seemed to have all but forgotten how the U.S. and the Soviets manipulated the region and clashed there most of that half century, in which "good" dictators, like Egypt's overthrown Hosni Mubarak, were well fed and patted by previous Washington administrations.
Overall though, the speech did a pretty good job in terms of recognizing and backing the enormous change that is occurring in the Arab world and summarized how the Obama administration has handled it so far: calling for political reforms and promoting human rights. From now on, as Obama unveiled economic incentives for Tunisia and Egypt, the economic development component is added as well to set a model for the region's other states that are undergoing similar upheavals.
Following these three steps, Obama bluntly completed his speech with a final principle, the “pursuit of peace” in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most did not expect Obama at this time to dig deeper into the stalled Middle East peace process, for there are too many obstacles to handle at once: the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah, their decision to seek recognition from the United Nations in September and the resignation of the U.S. special envoy George Mitchell are just a few.
The first public presidential reference to the 1967 borders infuriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated that he was told by Obama that “there will be no surprises in the speech.” Israel’s official statement about the speech is certainly a good indicator of the Israeli administration's high level of unhappiness.
Josh Block, a former spokesman for American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and now a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, told me that “by suggesting the Israelis should accept the 1967 borders as a baseline, albeit while retaining large parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, [Obama] has rewarded the party who is the least cooperative and undermined trust with Israel, and hurt the prospects for peace.  Why do this now, when the [Palestinian Authority] is rejecting his requests, forming a ‘unity government’ with Hamas terrorists, and calling for statehood?
“Mentioning the ‘67 borders’ in this way, at this time, is a major mistake, that simply repeats the error made when the White House focused on settlements. This strategic error is manifold, and undermines, not advances, the prospects for peace talks.”
Obama, following this speech, has a meeting with Netanyahu on Friday at the White House, then he will speak at AIPAC’s annual conference on Sunday.
According to one Middle East observer in Washington, Obama's hovering approval ratings following Osama bin Laden’s kill made him confident to make this blunt push on the Middle East peace process, even though the re-election campaign is about to start and everyone knows how significant the Jewish vote in the American election cycle is. Obama must also feel more relaxed when sees that there are not many viable competitors on the Republican side. Obama, indeed, instead of stepping back from the miserably failed Middle East diplomacy of the last two years, has now decided to double down.
It is surely a very unpredictable weekend for U.S.-Israel relations and tense times for the Arab-Israeli process ahead of us. 
IMF source: Kemal Derviş is ‘almost impossible’
While popular with the bookmakers, Kemal Derviş' candidacy mostly elicits indifference within the IMF. The sentiment within the institution is that a viable candidate needs to have a pretty unique skill set. As the fund's activity is now focused on the stabilization of troubled economies in Europe, any future fund boss would need to be adept at navigating the delicate maze of European power relations and be able to gently, but resolutely, push all sides in the right direction.
"Derviş is not exactly an insider in the European establishment, and it is hard to imagine the Greeks listening to him lecturing them on fiscal responsibility,” according to one IMF source.
In addition, a short stint as minister of finance notwithstanding, Derviş comes from a development background, and that is not going to earn him any points in a crowd that hails almost exclusively from the finance and central banking community. Last but not least, his nomination would need a very strong push by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish government, and no such endorsement has been made public so far.


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