Towards a return of the Americans to the Middle Eastern scene ?


The announcement of Obama’s forthcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank has triggered many comments during the last few days.


By announcing his visit well before the constitution of a government in Jerusalem, is Obama seeking to interfere in Israel’s interior politics by pushing Netanyahu into choosing his allies among the center rather than among the extreme right wing of the country’s new political spectrum ?


What willl be in the heart of Obama’s discussions in Jerusalem : the Iranian file, or the  resumption of the israelo-palestinian peace talks ?


By this first visit to Israel as President of the United States, does Obama seek to put pressure on Netanyahu to keep Israel from a military initiative against Iran at a particularly dangerous moment, given the Syrian situation ?


Or is this visit rather a sign of the new US administration’s intention to take charge again of the israelo-palestinian file, after the disappointment that had followed Obama’s Cairo speech after his first election ?


Could it be that the US administration and Netanyahu’s entourage are secretely negotiating an agreement under which the Americans would undertake to put pressure on Iran against Israel’s acceptance to get back to negotiations with the Palestinians ?


The fact that two of Netanyahu’s advisors,Yaakov Amidror and Yitzhak Molcho have been in Washington these last few days would seem an announcement of sorts. National security consellor Amidror, sofar known for his rightist positions, recently qualified the pursuance of constructions in the territories as « problematic » « because it jeopardizes Israel’s international position ». His statement raises questions : Why would the announcement of new constructions in the territories,  which was no problem before the elections, become problematic today ?  Is there a new wind rising in the Middle East ?


It is too early yet to answer these questions. In any case, before getting into the perilous task of getting involved in the Middle East peace process, it is imperative for those who are daring enough to venture on this, to learn certain lessons from the past.


First of all, it must be kept in mind that the readiness to make concessions in view of an agreement with the Palestinians, which is continuously confirmed by opinion polls conducted in Israel, goes together with a widespread mistrust by the Jewish population towards the international community.


As to the Palestinians, they are divided between those who are still more or less confident in the Western powers’ ability to help them, and those who no more believe in this ability and may tempted by the methods of Hamas, who obtains better results.


This observation must lead the United States and the European Union – who are the only ones capable to play a role in this region – to above all try to gain the trust of both populations.  Lacking this dynamics, they will not be able to convince the leaders of both sides to seriously return to the negotiations. To try and take up the peace process again without disposing of a maximum of guarantees would be a fatal error, given the previous attempts which all failed.


Moreover, it is legitimate for both parties to ask themselves questions about the other’s willingness to reach a compromise.  The responsibilities for the past failures are widely shared.  That is why the international community cannot satisfy itself with being a mere arbitrator, but must be party to the negotiations by contributing concrete propositions for each of the disputed issues.  Israelis and Palestinians have been negotiating for a long time, and all those who participated in the talks are more or less aware of the outlines of the solution.  There are precedents such as Geneva’s Initiative which could be used as a basis.


When politicians fail, it is up to the civil society to open the path. The awareness of the urgency to solve this conflict, which had led us to create JCall, has not disappeared, quite on the contrary. If indeed an international initiative starts to be set up in the Middle East, it is our responsibility, in our modest place, to contribute to its successful outcome. This is the sense of our movement. Join us ! Give us the means to act !
David Chemla


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