19/06/2009

A thwarted American impulse in the Middle East

With Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo a new page seemed to be turned in the Middle East. The United States had decided to improve relations with an Iran that was expected to shift to a more moderate government. B. Obama was willing to take a new departure with the Arab-Muslim world. For the first time, America had adopted a more balanced discourse towards its Israeli ally, requesting the freeze of settlements and the creation of a Palestinian State. Concerning the European Union, Javier Solana, High Representative for the EU foreign policy, had met a member of Hezbollah, showing a more realistic position towards Lebanon.

The Lebanese election’s results had also been analyzed as a thaw between the West and the Middle East.

However, with the result of the controversial Iranian elections and Netanyahu’s speech in Bar Ilan, this impulse could be interrupted. Indeed, the re-election of M. Ahmadinejad at the head of Iran does not validate Obama’s strategy of « outstretched hand” and may increase regional tensions. In addition, this result, whether fraudulent or not, reinforces the position of Israel, which continues to call for sanctions against Tehran and to attract the attention of the international community to the « Iranian threat ».

The speech of B. Netanyahu also represents a halt to the American momentum for peace in the region. In refusing the freeze of settlements loudly and twice-through Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at Bar Ilan and Minister Lieberman in Washington-the Israeli government has shown it does not trouble itself with the American requirements. Furthermore, if B. Netanyahu has been able to let believe that he was satisfying the American demand for the establishment of a Palestinian State, he was not. The Israeli Prime Minister has indeed pronounced the term « Palestinian State » but the conditions he bond to this possibility are unattainable and he knows it.

Relying on his « proposals », Netanyahu presents himself as a promoter of peace and leaves the final word to the Palestinians, who are outraged by such requirements, while the press highlights the evolution of the Prime Minister, who had always proclaimed his opposition to a future Palestinian State. After the unexpected firmness the American president had shown to his Israeli counterpart by imposing a pressure that had been thought as decisive, B. Obama now appears less willing to contradict Israel since the White House welcomed the Israeli speech. In Europe, if diplomats refused to pursue the process of deepening of the Euro-Israeli relations, they welcome the Prime Minister’s speech, noticing only some “insufficiencies”.

Finally, it is highly possible that the Iranian issue will have the priority on the Palestinian issue on Western calendars, as Netanyahu asked during his travels in Egypt, Jordan and the United States and contrarily to what Obama wanted. In this case, the Israeli government would have managed once again to gain time and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State may be postponed ad vitam aeternam.

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