President Barack Obama is not as optimistic as his Secretary of State regarding the possibility of peace between Israel and the Arabs.
Obama, who gave an interview to the New Yorker magazine on Sunday, said that he believed the odds of reaching a peace agreement were less than 50%.
The President told the magazine’s editor David Remnick that these odds were true in all three of his main initiatives in the region - with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and with Syria.
“On the other hand,” he said, “in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn’t roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics. And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, What’s next?”
The comments come as Secretary of State John Kerry continues his efforts to secure a peace deal between the sides.
Kerry, who has made several trips to the Middle East and met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has consistently said that “progress” was being made, despite reports of wide rifts in the positions of the two sides.
The London-based Arabic news outlet Al Hayat reported on Saturday that Kerry will present a framework deal at the end of January at a conference in the Jordanian city of Aqaba.
Recent reports indicated that Kerry was pushing the sides to agree to a deal that involves a slow transition from IDF patrols over the Jordan Valley to PA forces, with an international presence. IDF drones would also be deployed over the area, as a means of gathering information about potential terrorist activity.
The issue of the Jordan Valley has become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), ewhich insists on full control of the Jordan Valley – along with all other land that was under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967. Israeli experts have warned that the area is strategically critical.
Obama told the New Yorker that ultimately, he envisages a new geopolitical equilibrium in the Middle East, that is less turbulent than the current landscape of civil war, terror, and sectarian battle. He noted that Israel could benefit from this new reality as well.
“With respect to Israel, the interests of Israel in stability and security are actually very closely aligned with the interests of the Sunni states,” he said.
“What’s preventing them from entering into even an informal alliance with at least normalized diplomatic relations is not that their interests are profoundly in conflict but the Palestinian issue, as well as a long history of anti-Semitism that’s developed over the course of decades there, and anti-Arab sentiment that’s increased inside of Israel based on seeing buses being blown up.”
“If you can start unwinding some of that, that creates a new equilibrium. And so I think each individual piece of the puzzle is meant to paint a picture in which conflicts and competition still exist in the region but that it is contained, it is expressed in ways that don’t exact such an enormous toll on the countries involved, and that allow us to work with functioning states to prevent extremists from emerging there,” said Obama.
The President also referred to the nuclear deal that was reached with Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu has warned that the deal is a dangerous one, putting him at odds with Obama, who reportedly responded by avoiding his phone calls and telling Netanyahu “not to be so vocal with his criticism of the deal.”
“Historically, there is hostility and suspicion toward Iran, not just among members of Congress but the American people,” Obama told the New Yorker, adding that “members of Congress are very attentive to what Israel says on its security issues.”
“I don’t think a new sanctions bill will reach my desk during this period, but, if it did, I would veto it and expect it to be sustained,” he declared.