This past week, President Obama took his first trip to Israel as the leader of the United States. As the closest ally in the Middle East to the U.S., this trip was celebrated by the Israeli community, yet was equally criticized by those who believe that peace talks are a lost cause.
Israel has recently resumed developing settlements on land that is deemed critical to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Obama urged the Israeli government to halt the continuation of the development of these settlements while simultaneously stating the need for direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Both Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu support a two state solution as the resolution to the dispute, but is that actually feasible?
The existence of the Israeli state causes conflict for Palestinians. It was decided by a conference that it would become a reconciliation territory for Zionists after WWII. The statehood of Israel was a declaration by the U.N, and not one made by the people living on the land during the time. Because of this, conflict was unavoidable and has set a precedent for the conflicts today.
These divides that have stemmed from a complicated past made Obama’s visit almost confusing. As much as Israel may be an ally of the government, it has created bigger divides with countries that have affected foreign relations negatively. With Israel having weak relations with countries the U.S. has stronger ones with, it creates tension. The role of the U.S. is almost lost in Israel because of the thousands of miles between D.C and Jerusalem.
However, it seems that the influence of the United States has managed to broker the resumption of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey, which are America’s biggest allies in the region. According to some reports, Obama’s administration helped to coordinate the reconciliation by urging the Turkish Prime Minister to disavow previous statements on Zionism, which gave the Israeli Prime Minister enough political room to offer an apology for the violent incident. The two nations cut off all ties after the flotilla raid in 2010, which caused the deaths of numerous Turkish aid workers. The flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians attempted to run the blockade of goods going into the Gaza Strip, and the ships were boarded by Israeli special forces who opened fire on members of the crew.
Repeatedly, Obama pushed the need for a two state solution and condemned the aggressive nature of the Israeli government. To students and the younger generation of Israelis, he urged peace talks. But what Obama said, like most of U.S foreign policy, is just talk. There is no way the U.S could directly influence peace talks when the problem doesn’t affect us or connect to us. Those who aren’t Jewish in the U.S see the relations to Israel as very one sided and are supportive of a government that doesn’t follow diplomatic paths. Though Obama may condemn the building of housing in disputed territory, it won’t make a massive impact to what Israel does or U.S relations.
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East will have been complicated by the past few years of unrest in the region that are encapsulated within the ‘Arab Spring.’ While Israel has normalized relations with very few nations in the region, the two sides had generally reached a mutual ceasefire with the other. Since the end of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, Israel’s military engagements have been largely limited to intervention in Lebanon and conflict with various Palestinian forces ranging from the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Now the situation has changed. The election of President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is one example of a new government in the Middle East that, while not openly hostile, is less friendly with Israel. As for the United States, this makes the awkward relationship that the United States tries to maintain both with Israel and with Arab nations even more so. Though the dust has yet to settle from the Arab Spring, it seems clear that at least some nations in the region will be more responsive to their people than their strongman predecessors. These people are not universally calling for Israel’s destruction, as some would claim, but they will be less willing to tolerate what they perceive to be Israeli aggression and occupation of Palestinian territory and people.