Richmond World Affairs Council

The Road to Peace

This week, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton addressed the American Jewish Committee, a Jewish advocacy organization, in Washington D.C. Her remarks came at a critical point in the stalled Middle East peace process. George Mitchell, the United States special envoy to the Middle East, is attempting to once again restart proximity talks and will be making another trip to Jerusalem next week. More importantly, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have recently stated that they are ready to make concessions in order to jumpstart the negotiations. The Palestinian Authority is willing to accept temporary borders while the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has eased restrictions in Gaza and has slowed down the pace of building in East Jerusalem.

The Secretary’s speech contained several important points regarding the Middle East peace process as well as direct warnings for Iran and Syria. Secretary Clinton reiterated Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security despite the recent disagreements over building in East Jerusalem. By reaffirming the countries’ alliance, Clinton sent a message to the rest of the world in which she made clear that even if they don’t always see eye to eye, the United States will do its utmost to protect Israel’s security and right to exist. Just as importantly, she also declared that Palestinians have a right to their own state. Clinton posited that a two state solution is the most beneficial resolution for all sides; Israel, Palestinians, and the region as a whole.

The past few weeks have shown that the Obama administration has an end goal of peace and will not overlook old habits that obstruct this aim. This seems to be the best opportunity to firmly establish peace that the Middle East has had in several decades. Obama is an American leader who is viewed in the Arab world as not having a predetermined bias towards Israel. The events which occurred recently between the US and Israel have proved this point. The Palestinians have two leaders, Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas, that are fighting corruption, building government institutions, and willing to negotiate with Israel since they understand that this is the only way to achieve a Palestinian state. If this opportunity is not taken advantage of, the chance to establish peace may be eclipsed by other developments.

Aside from the stubbornness and genuine fears of the Israelis and Palestinians, there are other factors at work in the region. Iran and Syria and their unpredictable behavior are obstacles to regional stability. Secretary Clinton addressed these issues in her speech as well. She warned Syria that there would be dire consequences if it continued to transfer weapons to the militant group Hezbollah. This seems to be a direct response to unconfirmed reports that Syria transferred long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah, the Islamic militant group based in Lebanon (Al-Jazeera). Iran was also criticized for its continued defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring organization. The actions of these countries derail the peace process and destabilize the entire region. These steps insinuate that Arab states are trying to derail any resumption of peace negotiations.

Clinton addressed this specific issue towards the end of her speech. She emphasized the necessity of other Arab states and the Arab League to lend their support to the Palestinians and their leaders. If the surrounding Arab states support the development of a Palestinian state, they must do more to illustrate this. Recognition of Israel and increased financial aid for the Palestinians, specifically at Salam Fayyad’s discretion, are only two of the steps that should be taken. The Arab League owes it to the Palestinians to legitimize their claim to statehood by increasing their support for this goal both financially and diplomatically. Without this crucial backing, the Palestinians face an even tougher road to independence.

Syria’s provocative actions and Iran’s nuclear ambitions are both destabilizing factors that detract form Israeli and Palestinian efforts to negotiate. There are also internal factors, such as Israeli building in East Jerusalem and Palestinian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, that contribute to this stalemate. However, it is imperative that these negative influences be overcome and that the regional Arab community works harder to lend support to the aspiration of Palestinian statehood. The motivation on the Palestinian and Israeli sides seems to be moving in the right direction, but it is only with these combined efforts that any genuine progress can be accomplished. The failure to establish a Palestinian state and finalize a peace agreement will have dismal consequences and the time to accomplish these goals may be running out sooner rather than later. This fact makes the realization of these goals that much more imperative. As Secretary Clinton stated in her speech, “a two-state solution coupled with a regional peace promises a future of prosperity. The status quo promises only more violence and failed aspirations” (State Department).

~ Alissa