Archive for July, 2008

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The next six months: new policy or same old thing in Middle East?

July 23, 2008

By Kristin Oto, Contributor

The buzz about the mediating role of the U.S. in the Middle East and the prevailing strategies for brokering peace is ever present in Washington, as the Bush Administration approaches the end of its term. An interesting six months lies ahead; we will see where the Bush Administration will leave off and where the next Administration will begin.

Presently, there is a lot of mediating taking place in the Middle East by other countries like Turkey, Germany, and Egypt for short-term solutions, but the U.S. has remained relatively passive in this regard. Germany recently umpired a deal between Israel and Hezbollah (an identified terrorist organization) to swap an Israeli-captured Lebanese gunman for the bodies of Hezbollah-captured Israelis. A ceasefire, albeit a fragile one, between Hamas and Israel was mediated by Egypt. But with all the so-called progress, there are still so many threats of violence on other fronts.

Iran and Israel are on the brink of hostility, fighting in Gaza as a result of ceasefire violations on both sides, and sanctions against Iran by the European Union (EU). And even the mediation that did take place shows signs of deteriorating in the near future. The danger of the swap between Israel and Hezbollah is that it gives Hezbollah more reason to think that they hold power. The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is extremely fragile and there have already been violations on both sides. The mere band-aids for temporary relief: intentional short-term way out or failure of a long-term solution? Some say the recent Israeli diplomacy (negotiations with Syria, ceasefire with Hamas, and dialogue with Lebanon) is sheer happenstance, not a surge of prudence or change in policy.

It is commonly believed that while other countries attempt to mediate in the Middle East, nothing lasting will happen without U.S. support because of how influential the US is in the world. Some argue that the mediations are not lasting because they are lacking the “U.S. stamp of approval”. The U.S. against any deal will not sustain a solution. ‘The strong do what they want, and the weak do what they must’, is an unnerving statement, but seems to be the apparent deduction, as none of the recent resolutions in the Middle East mediated by other countries have had a long-term effect. But with the current Administration and its timetable, pushing anything is irresponsible.

There is certainly a tendency to see the problems in the situation, and it is very easy to see how things can get worse, but pessimism can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many at this point toss up their arms in exasperation, as there does not yet appear to be a light at the end of this tunnel. Preparing for the worst can often cause alarm and escalate tensions. On the other hand, some have suggested that the Bush Administration could “negotiate with Iran and it could be part of the Bush Legacy”. This is also not profitable thinking because resolving the conflict in the Middle East is a labyrinth, and for the Bush Administration to pursue anything would be irresponsible and unrealistic on its timetable.

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Can We Solve It?

July 17, 2008

By Kristin M. Oto, Contributor

Al Gore at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall Thursday, July 17, 2008 as he challenges America to triumph over global warming within the next ten years.

Al Gore at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall Thursday, July 17, 2008 as he challenges America to triumph over global warming within the next ten years.

17 July 2008:  My grandpa always talked about “leaving his footprint” in the world before he left it.  Funny thing is, now people are trying to leave as little of a “footprint” as possible.  The bigger your footprint, the more you personally contributed to carbon emissions.  Al Gore’s solution: he charges America to use 100% clean energy within the next 10 years.  In his speech today at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., Gore said:

“Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

 This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans – in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.”

Gore has an extremely vast amount of support and following in this effort, as every single one of the 3702 seats in Constitution Hall was filled – not to mention people sitting on the stairs.  But despite the enormous amounts of attention global warming has received both on the Democratic and Republican sides, some still remain unconvinced and show skepticism about the validity of global warming altogether.  Ironically, some of this skepticism comes from my generation – the generation Gore calls on to take proactive steps to solve the problem.  Gore calls it a “Generational Challenge to Repower America”.  

A group of young interns protest in front of Constitution Hall before Al Gore's speech.  The sign reads, "Why is Al Gore's Footprint So Large?"

A group of young interns protest in front of Constitution Hall before Al Gore's speech. The sign reads, "Why is Al Gore's Footprint So Large?"

As for me, a little skepticism isn’t enough incentive to risk the consequences of ruining the planet.  The choice is yours; it’s your future.  Calculate your own “carbon footprint“.

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World Indecisive About Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

July 9, 2008

By Kristin M. Oto, Contributor

9 July 2008: Public opinion matters, but does the Palestinian-Israeli conflict still matter? Whether or not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has remained significant, is a topic of debate, and will be a topic of concern for the next President.

The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion of Shibley Telhami’s analysis paper: Does the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Still Matter? on July 1, 2008. The event was moderated by Senior Fellow and Director for the Saban Center for the Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Martin S. Indyk. Although Telhami’s paper only reflects attitudes of non-Palestinian Arabs from the past six years, it provides significant insight into opinions and feelings toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and foreshadows future consequences for the world, particularly for the U.S. as a prominent source of aid to Israel and bordering countries. 

Telhami’s paper is an analysis of Arab attitudes on the importance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, based on consistently high poll results across the board for six countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Telhami argues that other related issues, including the divide between Hamas and Fatah, attitudes toward Israel, attitudes toward the United States, and the prospect of peace in the Middle East, influence Arab perceptions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A correlation between the amount of violence and the degree of importance assigned to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Arab public could be observed from Telhami’s poll results. What he found was that the more violence there was, the higher ranked the conflict was in term of importance and the less conflict, the less importance. The 2004 poll that followed the assassinations of Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi, had the most countries rate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict very high in importance.

The next American President faces the reality that Arabs have little confidence and negative attitudes toward the United States. Attitudes toward the United States are hard for the Arab public to distinguish from attitudes toward Israel. According to a poll in 2006 and in 2008 of the views of United States and Israel, most Arabs believe that the United States and Israel tend to have mutual interests. Telhami said, “Israel and the United States are connected in Arab public minds in a way which makes anger with one hard to separate from the other.” The Arab-Israeli issue has an “extremely important” influence in Arab assessment of the United States. When asked what the United States could do to improve Arab opinion of the United States, the number one choice was brokering peace with Israel, followed by withdrawal from Iraq. 

Is peace possible?

Although Arab public opinion revealed that Arabs are sympathetic to the militant Hamas, Arab attitudes toward Israel are still supportive of peace. Telhami explained, “A plurality of Arabs overall support peace, but do not believe that Israelis will ever accept such peace.” Pessimism looms over Arab public opinion where 55 percent said peace will never happen, and only 13 percent said that they believe it is attainable within the next five years. 

Telhami concludes that the Arab public cannot exactly mark “what is good for the Palestinians,” but there is a “trend toward sympathy with militants, pessimism about prospects of Arab-Israel peace, and anger with Israel and the United States.” 

What does the rest of the world think?

While Telhami’s analysis solely addresses the Arab attitude toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, WorldPublicOpinion.org offers data on the rest of the world’s perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Research and interviews of 18,792 participants were conducted in 18 countries: China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia, Mexico, Peru, Britain, France, Spin, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Thailand, and South Korea. According to WorldPublicOpinion.org’s report, as presented by Kull, “Publics around the world are not cheering for either side and want their governments to take an even-handed approach.”  The study found that even 71 percent of the United States’ public said that they do not want the United States government to take a side. Most countries polled agree that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are doing their part to resolve the conflict. In addition, there is overall support for the UN as a peacekeeping force if Israel and the Palestinians were to come to a peace agreement. 

Does the Palestinian-Israeli conflict still matter?

Although the public chose not to take a side on the conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has demonstrable significance in the modern world.  Shibley Telhami emphasized the importance of public opinion:

“[Public opinion] affects the degree to which governments expend resources on internal security, the extent to which they feel secure enough to allow more domestic freedoms, the degree to which non-state militant actors are able to draw public support, and the extent to which governments can rely on segments of society and on governmental bureaucracies in implementing their policies.” 

The fact that the world public did not choose to pick a side also signifies how complex the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is. Considering the enormous power of public opinion, what implications are in store for the world if we cannot make up our minds?