Mideast awaits new leaders, direction in 2009
Former President Jimmy Carter urged new focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace last week. But other accords may be more feasible.
Exhausted by years of conflict and political stagnation, the peoples of the Middle East are looking to President-elect Barack Obama to help shape a new direction for the region after he assumes office next month.Skip to next paragraph
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But it is a former US president that is pushing once more for a renewed effort to resolve the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict that many believe lies at the heart of the region's woes.
"I don't consider myself an oracle or authority on the subject… but the minimum message I bring is that peace is necessary not only for Israelis and Palestinians but the entire region and indeed the entire world," he told an audience at the American University of Beirut last week.
Mr. Carter has remained deeply involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts since helming the Camp David peace talks in 1978 during his presidency which led to a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
Despite the optimism engendered by those breakthrough talks 30 years ago, the Israeli-Palestinian track has grown increasingly complicated and bitter.
Israeli settlements continue to expand on territory earmarked for the Palestinians. Despair among Palestinians has given rise to increased militancy and two intifadas, further eroding goodwill on both sides. Some analysts say the Israeli Palestinian peace track is almost blocked for now, given the distrust between the two sides, the rising popularity of Hamas (which rejects a two-state solution), and the inherent weakness of Israel's unwieldy coalition governments.
"The situation on the ground is really terrible," says Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies in Beirut. "The Palestinian house is in complete disorder… and the Israelis are not in a position to make decisive conclusions."
Still, Mr. Carter recommends a return to several key proposals that he says present a mutually acceptable basis for a durable peace. They include:
• United Nations resolutions such as 194 and 242, which deal with Palestinian refugees' right of return and exchanging land for peace.
• The proposal of the International Quartet – the US, the European Union, Russia, and the UN – which has called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory and recommended that Jerusalem be a shared capital for Israel and Palestine.