The Obama administration’s recent efforts on reactivating the Palestinian-Israeli peace process depend heavily on the situation on the ground; if the situation remains difficult, it will be reflected in the success or failure of Obama’s efforts. This was one of the conclusions reached by Dr Nathan Brown, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C., during a seminar at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

He emphasized several key points with regards to the Obama administration’s advancements on the issue:

  • Obama’s thoughts on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process are just a more polite version of Bush’s thoughts. They are not really different in terms of the core conditions.

  • The only real difference between Bush and Obama is the two-state solution approach. The Obama administration is the first to voice the prospects for two states so strongly.

  • Obama’s approach to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is at this point not very optimistic, but alternative suggestions are limited.

In short, the Obama administration’s approach is not that great. “The tone is different between the Bush and the Obama approaches, but I’m not really certain that the content it different. There have been signals that the process could be different, but no patterns so far.”

Confronting the settlement issue is not new. Every previous administration has mentioned it, but the Obama administration seems to be moving more forward with it. “The strength of the Obama administration policy is not new in theory, opposing Israeli settlements, but it is clearer about it than the previous administrations.”

The Obama administration has made a regional consensus central to the Arab-Israeli peace process. Obama’s team is very experienced and they understand the realities of the region. The bigger reality is the Palestinian division of leadership, which is not promising for the peace process. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is more involved diplomatically with the U.S., but Hamas’ diplomatic involvement in Gaza is central to a solution. However, the political, economic, and humanitarian institutions in Gaza are beyond a disaster. It will be hard to build on a two state solution when the mechanisms of establishing a Palestinian state are so weak. The Obama administration seems to be aware of the split between the Ramallah and the Gaza governments. They are waiting to see if the regional realties can be fixed before they start to reveal a viable negotiation process.

The previous U.S. administration was the only previous administration to voice a two state solution as a goal, but Obama is the first to actively pursue it. However, the two-state solution has lost much of its credibility among the Palestinians and Arabs in the region. Twenty years ago, Obama’s approach would have been more plausible, but now the situation has changed. The people are deeply cynical towards any type of real progress. The diplomatic process has always been on the negotiating table, but the actual progress that has been made is very disappointing. Although the Obama administration’s approach is a first, it is self-limiting. It is successful in its own terms, but the extent to which the approach can be successful is not very optimistic.

Dr. Brown suggested that the Obama administration should focus on Gaza first. Coincidently, Hamas is showing a more diplomatic side than before, and they have not shown any signs of wanting to obstruct the movement for a diplomatic peace process. A few years ago when Fatah was in control, a unified Palestinian voice might not have been necessary. Now it is viable to the success of the peace-process. Brown emphasized that: “Giving Palestinians a unified voice is just a suggestion, it does not mean that it was going to work.” This will be a problem in Washington because U.S. policy prohibits negotiations with Hamas. Also, Netanyahu’s government poses considerable challenges for the U.S. in achieving a solution that includes Hamas, and Israel is obviously a key player in the peace process. “Overall, the situation is still a long way from being solvable, and the current condition only makes things seem gloomier.”