Unexpected fallout of US engagement in Mideast

Unexpected fallout of  US engagement in Mideast

Five months after assuming power as the first black President of the US, Barack Hussein Obama delivered what was considered as a historic speech on...

Five months after assuming power as the first black President of the US, Barack Hussein Obama delivered what was considered as a historic speech on June 4, 2009, at Cairo University, infusing a new thinking into the American foreign policy on the Middle East. Obama seemingly set in motion a process of reconciliation between Israel and Palestinians on their right to exist and the imperativeness of co-existence for Mideast and global peace. Fast forward to last week. Three months into his second term, Obama's Mideast tour that took him to Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan which houses thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees had not resulted in any breakthrough in the stalled peace process. However, an unexpected outcome is a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey which had been at loggerheads over Palestinian aid ship fiasco in 2010. Despite his best efforts, Obama had miserably failed to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in his first term. Worse, Israeli leaders had defied him and snubbed his peace envoys and occupied more Palestinian land by building thousands of homes for Israelis. The peace process which was launched with fanfare by the Obama administration was in a shambles by the time the President ended his first term. Now, Obama, with his new Secretary of State John Kerry, reopened the Mideast chapter by pledging unwavering support to the Jewish state. There was nothing new in that. But Obama had gone a step further that no American President has done so far: Vowing eternal support to Israel and assuring it personal commitment to its security in the wake of Iran's persistent threats. His rhetoric might have been music to Israeli leaders, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had just completed his new coalition set-up after last month's elections, but not to Palestinians who cold-shouldered Obama's West Bank visit for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Not without reason. The Palestinians have little faith in the Obama administration that it will compel Israel to end its settlements policy under which it has been building hundreds of homes for Jews in the Palestinian lands. In fact, that is one of the most contentious issues in peace negotiations and halt to settlements was one of the pre-conditions of Palestinian leadership to restart peace talks. Obama, who was earlier vociferous about the Israeli policy of expansion and had issued several warnings that invited the wrath of Jewish Right, was surprisingly mellow on the issue. At a joint press conference with Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank, Obama did not specifically call for a halt to building of settlements; he urged both sides to press for a broad agreement that would meet two objectives: Sovereignty and state for Palestinians and security for Israel, a statement repeated for an umpteenth time. In other words, Obama has once again restated the US position without offering a solution to the decades-old problem. Nor has he hinted at any out-of-box initiative. While there was no gain or loss for the Palestinians, Obama's visit bolstered Israel and strengthened its leaders' hands, particularly those of Netanyahu.
It was a sort of diplomatic coup for Obama to bring two estranged allies Turkey and Israel together, that too on the Jewish soil. Until 2010, Turkey had had the distinction of being the only Muslim country to have strategic ties with Israel when its commandos stormed a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, Mavi Marmara, when it was trying to break a naval blockade to deliver relief material. The clashes aboard claimed nine lives and triggered an international outcry. Ankara downgraded its ties with Israel to the point of severing them. Ever since that event their frosty relations have been continuing with Turkey insisting on an official apology and Israel refusing it. Obama's intervention has brought a thaw between the two when Netanyahu called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and expressed regret over injuries and loss of life to Turkish citizens aboard the aid ship. Thus a simple apology has ended nearly three years of accusations and counteraccusations and brought two most important US allies back into its fold. The rapprochement will help the US more than Israel and Turkey. Both the countries are hostile towards Syria and the unabated civil unrest and the battles between government forces and rebels are weighing heavily on the US government. A It is also under pressure from allies that it should stop the carnage by building up a global consensus against President Bashar Al Assad's regime, forcing him to step down. The Pentagon doesn't want to open another theatre of war under US banner and push for a solution. Instead, it prefers its trusted allies to carry on 'the engagement of Syria' and a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation will help the US serve its long-term goals in the region. Obama's brief visit to Jordan to meet King Abdullah II was significant in the sense that the kingdom is carrying the burden of hosting nearly half a million Syrian refugees. As a goodwill gesture, Obama has announced $200 million more as aid to Jordan to cope with the refugee rush. Though it is a munificent act, in reality, Obama has strengthened American position among its Mideast allies. The strategy is aimed at intensifying the anti-Syrian stance in the region which coincided with the opening of Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday. The tiny Sheikhdom of Qatar is a staunch American ally and a strong opponent of President Assad. To his chagrin, Qatar invited Syria' opposition National Coalition to the summit in place of Syria which was suspended in November 2011 because of Damascus crackdown on people demanding reforms. Washington's aim appears to be isolating Syria instead of engaging it militarily. A
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