When Democratic candidate Barack Obama won the US presidential elections in 2008, the Middle East was bubbling with hope. Twelve years later, when another Democrat, Obama's former Vice President Joe Biden, looks set to take the reins at the White House next month, there is hardly any hype or expectations that he will completely reverse his predecessor Donald Trump’s approach towards the region, particularly on Palestine.
From forcing Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel without any quid pro quo, allowing new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, to recognize the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, ending financial support to Palestinians, and gambling with "deal of the century", Trump overturned the traditional US Middle East policy.
Many countries, even allies described Trump’s approach as impeding progress for a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian problem. Turkey and the European Union called the US move as adding to the instability in the already strife-torn region.
During a visit to Palestine and Israel, in the later years of the Obama regime, I could sense a volcano seething beneath the deceptive calm, due to unfulfilled expectations. Both Palestinians and Israelis were lamenting at Obama’s failure. He had also failed to live up to the expectations of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which had conferred him the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
The Committee in its citation said: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so based on values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”
A decade later neither Palestinians nor Israelis have much faith left in the “direct talks”, steered under the guidance of world powers. Besides the high-walls built by Israelis to restrict movements of Palestinians, the hate between two communities, the Jews and Muslims, has also grown. To avoid eye contact with Palestinians in the old city of Jerusalem, ultranationalist Jews use walkways built on the roof of the covered market, to avoid alleys full of Arab shops. Israelis have been slowly evicting Arab occupants of old Jerusalem ostensibly to change the demography of the city. In the past 20 years, the number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, has increased by more than 200,000 to about 600,000. The Muslim population in the city of Jerusalem has been reduced to 36% as per the 2011 census.
Influential sections within Democrats in the US and the EU still recognize a two-state formula based on pre-1967 positions leaving the control of Jerusalem open for negotiations. But the trust deficit between the two communities, Palestine Authority’s declining political clout, Israelis’ attempts of colonization, and practicing a form of apartheid has added roadblocks towards a peaceful resolution.
Although many opinion polls conducted in Israel have suggested that an overwhelming majority of Jews were supporting the creation of two states, neither Israel nor the international community has made any progress to achieve this goal.
Former International Director of American Jewish Committee David Rosen believes that over 70% of Israelis are favoring a separate and an independent Palestine as they feel threatened by the growth rate of Muslims in the Arab world. “The birth rate of the Arab World and the Muslim World is way beyond us. We will be eliminated in a short period. So, we have an urgency to have a peaceful resolution than anyone else,” said Rosen, who is also a Jewish religious leader.
While agreeing that resolution of Palestinian conflict will have a positive impact on relations between Muslim populations and the West, he, however, questioned, “whether Israelis can trust Palestinians who are baying for each other’s blood?”
To add to the woes of Palestinians, the world no more now recognizes resistance movements, particularly those engaged in armed struggles. They are now bracketed with terrorist groups, and there is global hostility against terrorism. Khalid Mashal, leader of Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, said there was an earnest need to remove such anomaly and distinguish between resistance and terrorism. “We have the right to resist occupation. We have gained legitimacy because of our election victory. We are not random killing machines like terrorists. We are confining our battle against the occupier and within the borders of Palestine,” he said.
“This struggle against the occupation has legitimacy in international law, and it has also been recognized in all faiths. If this is terrorism, how will you classify Vietnamese resistance, the South African fight against apartheid, the French struggle against Nazis, and the Indian resistance against British and so on,” he told this writer during an interview, conducted in Doha a few years ago.
For many, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel seems to offer the best chance for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. Yet with each passing day and each new step to expand settlements, the door to such a deal is closing further. The virtual dumping of the Oslo Accord by Trump has further queered the pitch.
Biden’s presidency offers only one hope that the US will turn to traditional diplomacy, where the embassies and official emissaries take center stage, unlike the personalized or WhatsApp diplomacy driven by Trump. But this also means the return of rivalries between US agencies over foreign policy issues, particularly related to the Middle East. In all likelihood, it appears the Obama era is returning, which started with hope but ended in despair.
Biden, still stands at the cusp of an opportunity to prove naysayers wrong. The only way is to adopt a people-centric approach and find ways to settle the Palestinian issue. Since this conflict is at the heart of global and regional instability, it will have a salutary effect to settle other conflicts as well. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the helplessness of countries to deal with the situation have shown that the world cannot afford political instability and needs to concentrate and invest in more pressing issues like health and the environment to save humanity. The microscopic enemy does not recognize borders or humans based on their race and religion. It even does not differentiate between the rich and the poor.
**Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.