During President Barack Obama’s nuclear summit in Washington, the US leader was expected to receive a stern warning about the situation in the Middle East in a private meeting this morning with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
While many world leaders understand that Obama has been focused on domestic concerns, now that he’s made progress on economic recovery plans and won passage of the health care bill, King Abdullah was expected to begin urging the president to take on a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The king warned in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week that if diplomats “continue to go around in circles,” then a conflict will erupt.
But Obama’s ability to effect change in the region will depend on Arab and Israeli leaders making concessions they’ve so far been unwilling to make.
“For the Arab leaders to be able to afford to be more explicit in support of US goals -- vis-a-vis Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan – they need a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli realm,” says Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. “Any Arab leader who comes to Washington with this kind of request [to take a more active role in the Arab-Israeli peace process] has to expect that Washington will respond by asking ‘Okay, we’re willing to do this, but what are you willing to do to help us do this?'”
So far, Arab leaders have been relatively patient with Obama, recognizing the domestic challenges he faces in the US. However, Mazen Alaugili, a political science professor at Jordan’s Mutah University, says that with progress on the homefront, “King Abdullah is pressuring or helping Obama to be more personally involved in the conflicts."
It’s been almost exactly a year since King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to meet with Obama after he took office.
“Now after one year with such continuous Israeli efforts in terms of settlement building, and from the Arab point of view impeding the peace process, probably now Obama has developed a better understanding of the situation,” says Hasan Al-Momani, director of the Regional Center on Conflict Prevention at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy.
With Obama’s expectations in check, Mr. Momani says that King Abdullah will likely encourage him “to initiate a peace process with the Israelis, but at the same time with clear guidelines, a negotiation not just for the sake of negotiations, a negotiation to settle, to end the conflict.”
With the Arab-Israeli conflict at the center of regional issues, many analysts agree that Obama will have to take serious steps toward ending the conflict if his foreign policy initiatives are to succeed. Most recently, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that the continuation of the conflict was costing the lives of US soldiers in the nation’s two ongoing wars.
With tensions extremely high in the region, King Abdullah told the Wall Street Journal that it is vital for the US to get involved if peace is to be achieved and further conflict avoided. “The job of Jordan and the other countries in the international community is to keep common sense and keep hope alive until America can bring its full weight on the Israelis and the Palestinians to get their act together and move the process forward,” said the king in the interview.