Daily Israel Report

Obama in Middle East Rut

Obama says his Middle East peace plan is in a rut and wants Egypt’s Mubarak to get it out of the ditch. American analysts are skeptical.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/19/2009, 2:05 PM

official gov't photo

U.S. President Barack Obama, who before taking office said he would “hit the ground running” in the Middle East, said Tuesday his peace plan is in a rut. He turned to visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to help him get out of the ditch, but Washington analysts are skeptical.

The president continued to express optimism despite the Arab world’s refusal to make token gestures to Israel, such as improving cultural ties and allowing Israel’s El Al Airlines to fly in their skies.

Israel has taken further steps to fall in line with President Obama’s policy by continuing to freeze the issuance of tenders for new construction for Jews in Judea and Samaria. The Netanyahu government has been involved in semantics, with Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) saying the strategy is a “waiting policy” that allows a renewal of talks with the Palestinian Authority.

He declined to use the term “a freeze on building,” and work is continuing on projects already underway, while PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas demands it be stopped before he sits down with the Netanyahu government.

As President Obama praised Israel’s “waiting policy,” Mubarak implicitly criticized the American government by stating that issues such as “settlements’ are blocking the peace talks.

”We need to move to the final status solution and level," Mubarak told reporters at the White House meeting. "I have contacted the Israelis and they said, 'Perhaps we can talk about a temporary solution,' but I told them 'No.' I told them, 'Forget about the temporary solution, forget about temporary borders.'"

The President responded, "If all sides are willing to move off of the rut that we're in currently, then I think there is an extraordinary opportunity to make real progress, but we are not there yet."

The lack of synchronization between the Egyptian and American presidents was illustrated by Mubarak’s comment that the U.S. will unveil a new peace blueprint by next month. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied that such a plan exists.

The liberal-leaning and previously pro-Obama Washington Post newspaper stated Tuesday that President Obama is walking down the wrong alley by depending on Mubarak to return Israel and the PA to the Roadmap.
The Washington Post newspaper stated Tuesday that President Obama is walking down the wrong alley by depending on Mubarak.

Despite Mubarak’s praise of President Obama for his “reaching out to the Muslim world” speech in Cairo in June, the Washington Post editorial stated, “For several years now, the Egyptian regime has been promising Washington that it will broker an end to the rift between Hamas and the more moderate Palestinian Authority, end the smuggling of weapons to militants in Gaza and obtain the release of an Israeli soldier held hostage since 2006. It has failed on all three counts.”

It reminded readers that Mubarak’s support for American policies “has been lukewarm at best” and cited Egypt’s suggestion in a televised interview on Monday that the U.S. was wrong to be waging war against terror in Afghanistan.

“No amount of coddling by Mr. Obama is likely to change the behavior of Mr. Mubarak, who has 28 years of experience in deflecting U.S. initiatives,” the editorial surmised.

American media also have noted that Mubarak’s frail health may limit his ability to help President Obama, while the Politico.com website noted that the new president’s troubled health care reform and the investigation of interrogation abuses overshadow the Israel-Arab struggle for the administration.