Washington, D.C. – The first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s historic address announcing a "new beginning” to the Muslim world in Cairo comes at the end of one of the most tumultuous weeks in recent memory for the Middle East. Reverberations from Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla threaten to scuttle efforts aimed at jumpstarting a peace process already on life support, and opponents of a two-state solution have seized upon the incident as a means to distract from the broader interests at stake.
The United States should continue to demonstrate leadership in ratcheting down regional tensions while simultaneously maintaining focus on the ultimate goal of a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors. This week’s incident should serve as a reminder of the urgency of achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement for the sake of U.S. national security interests. Difficult weeks like this one underscore the importance of achieving a sustainable peace deal. The White House must manage the current crisis and prepare for other obstacles that will arise in the future in order to ensure that such episodes do not serve to completely derail efforts toward a lasting two-state solution.
The tone and broad vision set by President Obama’s historic speech last year in Cairo provides the foundation and right formula necessary to produce the kind of breakthrough that the region—and U.S. national security interests—need. In order to regain momentum toward the goal of a two-state solution, the Obama administration must work to build the trust of the Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab states as well as start to communicate what incentives the United States is prepared to offer them to achieve a conflict-ending agreement. Generations of conflict and tensions exist, so this is not an easy task.
If there is one lesson that the Obama administration should have drawn from its first year of Middle East peace efforts, it is that the administration should not get lost in the weeds of its own tactics. A series of unsuccessful efforts launched by the Obama administration during the past year failed to get the parties to take meaningful steps: Israel did not freeze all settlements, Palestinians did not return to direct negotiations, and Arab states did not provide confidence- building measures to the Israelis. As a result, the White House failed to achieve the kind of trust that the Cairo speech was meant to engender. George Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, has made repeated pleas for patience as the administration has moved from tactic to tactic by saying, "We had 700 days of failure in Northern Ireland (where he served as the lead U.S. negotiator) and one day of success."
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