THE BLOG

Obama II Has a Rare Opportunity to Forge Mideast Peace

A real possibility exists for a Middle East peace in President Obama's second term. Palestinians and Arabs are ready to make major concessions and the Israelis know that time is not on their side if they still want a democratic state with a Jewish majority.

The world had an exaggerated expectation of America's first African American president in terms of what he could do in his first term. Now a politically mature second term president, who has proven that he can take care of world terrorists, can also help deliver peace without having to worry about any new elections.

The U.S. elections have also delivered a hithertho unclear statistic. American Jews who voted overwhelmingly to reelect the president agree more with their president than with the current prime minister of Israel, even on issues that pertain to Israel. The 70 percent of America's Jews didn't list Israel anywhere near the top of their priorities. This might be the most important result of the elections. Other than the parties themselves, America's Jews might be the single most important group that can help bring some sanity to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On the Arab side a lot has changed in recent years. The Arab peace initiative has survived the Arab spring and is still the most challenging peace offer that the region has experienced. The rhetoric of Palestinian leaders, possibly because they are not planning to run for any office again is much closer to reality than before. Even the Palestinian's plan to upgrade its status at the UN is based on generally globally accepted moderate peace plans based on the two state solution.

President Mahmood Abbas declared this week that Palestine is the territories occupied in 1967 and that most Palestinians (including himself) do not insist on returning to live in their homes in Israel. The Israelis have witnessed one of the longest peaceful periods despite their near half century of a military occupation. This is in part due to the vigorus effort by the Palestinian Authority who is cooperting with the Israelis in the security field. Abbas has also stated that he will not allow a third intifada insisting that he is opposed to any militarization of protest activities against the foreign Israeli occupiers.

Even the head of the Islamic movement Hamas is not planning to run for reelection as the head of the political bureau. Khaled Mishaal, who left Syria and has publicly supported popular rather than military struggle as the way to liberate Palestine, also supports the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

America's first African American president who grew up in several parts of the world should be able to produce a foreign policy much closer to his heart and beliefs without having to worry about another election. Second-term U.S. presidents, who naturally care about their legacy, often look overseas to find ways for history to remember them.

War and peace cannot be addressed in any part of the world more than in the Middle East, where the U.S. is fighting a war in Afghanistan and will continue to need to win the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims.

Solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must rank high in Obama's second term. Obviously new blood and new ideas are needed to give this effort a serious push. The idea of former President Bill Clinton being appointed as special peace envoy is very intriguing to many in the region.

As was proved before, moving ahead in the Middle East will most likely have to be done through a mix of pressure and behind-the-scenes politicking.

The Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement and the initial Palestinian-Israeli memorandum of understanding were prepared in secret. Obviously, once a package deal is agreed upon, it will require public support. Previous experience makes one inclined to believe that the public will most likely support a deal that leaders would agree to.

Almost everyone knows what such a deal would entail. A two-state solution will have to be basically based on the 1967 borders with some land swaps based on equity in percentages and quality of lands.

The refugee issue has been widely discussed and a solution will most likely include an admission by Israel of historic and moral responsibility for causing the refugee problem, in return for most Palestinians opting not to return (possibly a small percentage can be allowed to return over a number of years).

For Jerusalem, also, there are many solutions suggested that can be focused on. The Clinton parameters called for Palestinian neighborhoods as part of the Palestinian state and Jewish-populated areas that could be part of the state of Israel.

An unshackled U.S. president along with Palestinian leaders yearning for peace can be a perfect formula for progress in this centuries-old conflict. No case can enable the reelected president to etch his legacy and be remembered in history more than the Palestinian case.

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