Foreign Policy Blogs

Opportunity in Crisis – Israel/Palestine

“Opportunity in crisis” isn’t so much rhetoric in the first days of the Obama Administration. The financial meltdown that began in Wall Street and spread to America’s working class has knocked top-ranked financiers out of a comfortable context where risk was appropriately and indefinitely hedged. Most of middle class America is suffering and feeling the uncertainty that most lower class Americans who work two or more minimum wage jobs without benefits have felt for years. The crisis, however, has provided an opportunity for a progressive president to push a progressive economic agenda that he likely could not have passed in happier times.

The same is likely true in the Middle East, and Obama, fortunately, seems to be taking advantage. He is tackling the regions most difficult problems head-on with a fleet of respected special envoys – Mitchell for Palestine/Iraq; Holbrooke for Afghanistan/Pakistan; Gration for Sudan.

Although prospects for a resolution in Israel/Palestine seem dim I am recently optimistic. First, the issue has presidential engagement and a respected envoy who speaks on his behalf. This should settle disagreements among senior foreign policymakers in Obama’s Administration and reassure Middle East leaders that when they’re speaking to George Mitchell they’re speaking to the President. Second, Obama seems to be standing tough on his dedication to a two-state solution in the face of Israeli disagreement, which is not inconsequential. Third, a hardliner has come to power in Israel. Though Netanyahu has said he sees dim possibilities for a two-state solution, hardliners are likely the only leaders capable of bringing Israel’s factious politicians in line for a difficult agreement, as Begin did by making peace with Sadat thirty years ago. And again, American presidential engagement is key. Fourth, Arab leaders would like to resolve the conflict. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two Gulf leaders most active in regional diplomacy, are ready and have supported feasible proposals in the past. Egypt, as Michelle Dunne points out here, has a two-year window of elections where it will seek US political support. Jordan is always in, and negotiations with Syria are not out of the realm of possibility. Remember, Netanyahu initiated them quietly during his last premiership in 1998. The Palestinians are in crisis and divided but eager for peace with security. Now is the time.



Matthew Axelrod

Mr. Axelrod most recently researched the US-Egypt defense relationship in Cairo on a Fulbright grant, after serving as the Country Director for Egypt and North Africa in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2007. He entered the government as a Presidential Management Fellow, rotating through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and the Pentagon. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2003 with a BS in Foreign Service and an MA in Arab Studies.