Arabs losing hope in Obama's ability to broker Mideast peace
In a push for progress, three heavy hitters from the administration – Mitchell, Gates, and Jones – visited the region this week.
Nearly two months after President Obama's historic address to the Muslim world from Cairo, his administration made a high-profile drive this week to shore up Arab and Israeli support for a comprehensive peace deal.Skip to next paragraph
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A trio of senior officials – US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and US National Security Advisor James Jones – have visited officials throughout the region, with particular emphasis on Israel.
Since his June 4 Cairo speech, Mr. Obama has shown a new US willingness to take Israel to task for its expansion of settlements in the West Bank. But he has simultaneously begun to press the Arab world to do its part to foster peace, sending letters in advance of this week's visits to encourage action from leaders who are reluctant to make a move before Israel agrees to end the official state of war with its Arab neighbors.
But Mr. Obama and his team are running up against Arab skepticism. Though Obama still commands credibility in the eyes of many citizens from Syria to Saudi Arabia, many are still waiting for clear progress – or even a concrete plan.
"Where is this initiative?" asks Saudi businessman Turki F. Al Rasheed, who says Obama has retained credibility among Saudis despite doubts about what he can accomplish. "There is talk, but no initiative. If Obama wants peace, he has to come up with a clear-cut plan," not requests for Arab states "to give Israelis a nice gesture."
'There's only so much Obama can do'
The Saudis came up with such a plan in 2002, but Israel has yet to act on it. The so-called Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel full diplomatic normalization and peace with all Arab states in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in a shared Jerusalem.
From the Arab perspective, to give a dramatic gesture in advance of an Israeli halt to settlement expansion in the Palestinian territories – which many see as jeopardizing an eventual Palestinian state – would open Arab governments to criticism from their own people for giving something away for nothing.
"Normalization comes after achieving these goals, not before it," Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali told Agence France-Presse this week. "As we all know, Israel is continuing to take unilateral measures by changing the geographic and demographic facts on the ground, by building settlements and expanding the existing ones."