A message Obama can't ignore

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

AMMAN: President Barack Obama received a message from the Arab world when he met King Abdallah of Jordan in Washington earlier this month. It was an important message that the American president and his administration should appreciate because of its timing and content.

The message that King Abdallah carried was carefully phrased in Amman on 10 April when six Arab foreign ministers met along with the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. The message outlined the Arab position on the peace process as stated and reiterated in the Arab peace initiative. It also warned against Israel’s policies of expanding settlements and changing the nature of Arab East Jerusalem.

The Arab position is not new. Since the peace initiative was adopted in Beirut in 2002, the Arab side has adhered to it in spite of Israeli vacillation and rejection of its basic tenets.

Obama and his aides heard warnings that unless the two-state solution is implemented soon, the Arab-Israeli conflict will enter a critical phase. Arab leaderships are under pressure to abandon the peace offering if Israel continues to ignore it.

Perhaps it is not the message that is important as much as the messenger. King Abdallah is probably the only Arab leader today who can communicate with Obama in a way that can influence the American leader.

The king understands the region’s complex problems and his eloquence in explaining his views almost certainly left a lasting impression.

At a time when American foreign policy in the Middle East is being re-evaluated, King Abdallah’s visit comes at the most appropriate time. The king represents a new generation of young, moderate and intelligent leaders in the region. He also understands the West better than any other and as such can present the Arab case in a convincing manner.

But the question is will Obama and his team make good use of the king’s advice and heed his warnings? Recent events in Israel have weakened the peace camp and threaten to drive the region into a new cycle of confrontations. The election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister and the hawkish policies that he is promoting have polarized the parties involved.

US intervention has never been more needed than it is now. The Arab position is not a minority one. It coincides with that of the UN and its Security Council resolutions and of major partners such as Europe, Russia and China. It also agrees with the official position of the United States itself.

In fact, Israel stands completely alone in its rejection of key components of the two-state solution such as the dismantling of settlements, solving the refugee problem and partitioning Jerusalem.

King Abdallah’s visit to Washington could very well prove to be the most important diplomatic mission carried by an Arab leader in recent memory.

Its outcome will depend on how the United States will react to it. Obama backs the two-state solution and has expressed readiness to work actively on efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians toward achieving that goal.

Recently the media reported that the Obama administration has been telling pro-Israel members of Congress to be prepared for a possible showdown with the Israeli government over that crucial goal. Further delay in implementing a final peace deal will mean the death of the two-state option.

There will be no other options left on the table.

King Abdallah will speak for all the Arabs but especially on behalf of moderate leaders in the region. They are the same leaders that Washington needs to confront its enemies. Without moderate allies America’s struggle in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will be foiled.

This is where Obama finds himself today, wanting to lead but needing the backing of America’s friends and allies in the region. He must realize that America cannot do it alone, that its goals will not be secured if the goals of its friends are ignored.

Perhaps Obama will do more than listen. Perhaps he will realize that a just and durable peace in the Middle East is the best guarantee for America’s national interest. Perhaps he will look back at the past eight years and discover that while America promised much under the Bush government it had failed miserably in delivering on its promises.

The fact that the present Israeli government has callously brushed aside the peace process could give Obama the necessary tools to redefine America’s role and priorities. Only Washington can exert pressure on Israel now and while the task will not be easy it remains truly the last opportunity to save the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

Osama Al-Sharif is a veteran journalist based in Jordan. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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