Gaza conflict complicates Obama quest for peace

Even before Israel’s 22-day onslaught on the Hamas-ruled enclave, U.S.-brokered talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had gone nowhere.

President George W. Bush’s lunge for progress in the last of his eight years in office solved none of the core issues in the 60-year-old struggle between two peoples claiming the same land.

Political uncertainty in Israel, coupled with the bitter rift between the Hamas Islamists who control Gaza and Abbas’s secular Fatah faction in the West Bank, sowed doubt that either side had the clout to negotiate peace, let alone deliver it.

The Gaza offensive has only complicated the diplomatic challenge awaiting Obama when he takes over on Tuesday.

“Gaza is the new peace process,” said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Middle East negotiator and author of a recent book called The Much Too Promised Land.

“It’s going to take weeks and months to deal with the economic, security and humanitarian dimensions of the problem, including smuggling, prisoner exchanges, border crossings and a durable ceasefire,” he told Reuters from Washington.

“The chances of renewing the broader peace process leading to a conflict-ending agreement are slim to none,” he said.

Israeli analysts broadly agreed that the outlook was gloomy and might not improve after their country’s February 10 election to decide whether Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or her rightwing opponent Benjamin Netanyahu replaces the outgoing Olmert.

“The peace process is closed because the two primary actors, Olmert and Livni, are gone. Livni has turned right and it might hurt her campaign if she continues in the peace process,” said Dov Weissglass, former adviser to ex-premier Ariel Sharon.

“If Netanyahu is elected, I don’t see the peace process emerging immediately,” he added.

Obama has pledged to engage early in Middle East peacemaking, but many foreign policy concerns are jostling for his attention, said Israeli security analyst Yossi Alpher.

“Obama still has to direct his diplomatic energies to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. That hasn’t changed.”


Alpher said Obama would have Gaza post-conflict management on his hands and an uncongenial climate for Israeli-Palestinian talks. Promoting an Israeli-Syrian deal, building on now-suspended indirect talks, might be a better option.

“It would still make sense for him to concentrate on Syria because of the payoff that gives him in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and vis a vis people like Hamas,” Alpher argued, referring to areas where Damascus could play a role more helpful to Washington.

“Imagine, after the blows Hamas has suffered, that a few months from now its leadership gets kicked out of Damascus.”

Past Israeli-Syrian talks have broken down over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in 1967, but Miller said a breakthrough remained possible.

“Once Gaza stabilizes, there may be a chance for an Israeli-Syrian agreement — if Israelis, Syrians and Americans are ready to pay the price,us politics,” he said.

Palestinians have few options. Abbas’s willingness for talks with Israel has brought statehood no closer. Hamas’s combat with the Jewish state has brought death and destruction to Gaza.

“Either Obama and international community take a step toward a serious peace process or the moderates in the Arab world will be marginalized and the fanatics will take over,” said Nimmer Hammad, a senior aide to Abbas.

But it is hard to see how any such process can make headway while the Palestinians are so divided, their quarrels now echoed in a regional contest pitting U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt against Washington’s foes Iran and Syria.

An Egyptian diplomat said a summit hosted by President mobile porn Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday aimed to bolster Abbas.

“The world is telling Abbas that he is the legitimate leader and that it wants to support him,” the diplomat said.

But Hamas leaders no longer recognize Abbas as president and say he has no authority to negotiate for Palestinians.

Whatever losses Hamas has absorbed at the hands of Israeli forces, the Islamists have not lost their grip on Gaza.

“Hamas has suffered a punishing blow to its military milf porn capacity, as well as to its capacity to govern,” Miller said.

“But it will survive as a powerful force in Gaza fueled by the new narrative and mythology of struggle that will emerge from the last three weeks of war.”

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