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Middle East Peace Process
Makes Limited Progress
|by Dr. Subhash Kapila|
The Middle East Peace Process was sought to be jump-started by the United States in November 2007 after a gap of nearly seven years with the Middle East Peace Conference held in Annapolis, USA in November 2007 which the United States ensured was widely attended by a large number of countries to endow it with an international character. Thereafter President Bush visited both Israel and Palestine in January 2008 to hold meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and give a personal stamp and push to cajole both nations to move towards a negotiated settlement of the long outstanding dispute. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again visited Israel and Palestine in March 2008 to nudge the two nations towards some tangible progress to pave the way for President Bush's another visit to the Middle East in May 2008. The flurry of visits to Israel and Palestine by American dignitaries highlights significantly that no progress has been made in the Middle East Peace Process or only a limited progress has been made despite US initiatives.
This Column of December 9th 2007 had reviewed The Middle East Peace Conference held in November 2007 and highlighted the impediments that retarded the progress towards a negotiated settlement. Those factors are still in play and it is doubtful that any substantial gains would emerge in time for President Bush's visit in May.
The Middle East Quartet comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia have also been exploring various options for a peace settlement but without any success. Russia has announced that the next meeting of the Quartet would be held in May in Moscow as per its earlier announcement some months back. It seems that the United States aim would be to present some meaningful blueprint for peace agreed to by both Israel and Palestine before the Moscow meeting and thereby score a political victory. Russia too cannot realistically hope that it can succeed where the United States has failed so far.
Analytically, it seems that for a number of reasons this may not be possible as what could not be achieved for more than ten years cannot be successfully compressed in a six months time frame. The differences between Israeli and Palestinian stands are very wide and pervaded by mutual suspicions and further there are the questions of differing perceptions of the key external global and regional players.
The leaders of Israel and Palestine are realistically aware that the United States in a presidential election year does not carry political weight to force through a peace settlement in the Middle East and therefore while both would continue to make the right noises so as not to displease the United States both would in actual fact soft-pedal issues and stall for time.
Related to this is also the reality of United States strategic predicaments in Iraq and the US-Iran tussle over the nuclear issue as the political dynamics of both these complex situations inevitably would determine any peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. While the United States may prevail over Israel to inch towards a settlement it does not enjoy any substantial leverages over the Palestinians or in the Middle East as a whole to bring about meaningful compromises by the Palestinian side.
On that side of the equation the Palestinian leaders have to consider the Hezbollah and Hamas attitudes and stands on any peace settlement with Israel. And to make matters worse both these entities are under considerable political sway of Iran which is at loggerheads with the United States.
Overall, it can therefore be said that there is no likelihood of any dramatic breakthrough towards a Middle East Peace Process settlement as no grounds of optimism exist politically or strategically.
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