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The First Right Step in Years - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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We are facing a new chapter, a new policy, and a different picture, coinciding with the US withdrawing the majority of its troops from Iraq, and a change in the tone of the statements issued from Washington towards Arab and Muslim affairs. Practically speaking, this is a new United States, or at least a US that is trying to appear new.

For nine years, all of Washington, and its politicians and military, have been preoccupied with a strategy based on confronting the September 11 attacks, and the threat posed by the Al Qaeda organization. As for today, the US is undertaking its genuine role as an important political player that has substantial interests in the [Middle East] region, and the world at large, by launching the Palestinian – Israeli negotiations, and opening the door to Syria. The US began this [process] with a number of banquets and meetings in Washington, and then its senior officials arrived en masse in the region to attend various meetings, although these officials did humbly acknowledge that there is only small hope that a peace agreement will be achieved.

The different powers in the region support this idea and step [of re-launching the peace negotiations], and I can argue that Syria, and even Hamas – despite its statements opposing the negotiations, its killing of Israelis, and the propaganda campaign that it launched against the government of Mahmoud Abbas – are not truly against the negotiations or the ideas being put forward, rather what they [Hamas] oppose is the marginalization or cancellation of its role in the Palestinian account. Therefore I expect Hamas to receive an invitation to join the party at a later stage, and this will happen at the appropriate time. We have noticed that Hamas’s opposition [to the negotiations] is not as violent as it has been in the past; rather this is like somebody wanting to announce their opposition, but without losing their place. It is in everybody’s interests – the Palestinians, the Israelis, the US mediators – for Hamas to join them at the negotiating table at the right time, and the invitation being delayed is in the interests of Hamas, for it does not have to sit with them [the other negotiating parties] for long, for if Hamas did so it would lose the fig leaf that it uses to cover itself from its own supporters.

The same issue applies to Syria that wants negotiations and rejects ignoring this, and believes that one of the goals of any future agreement [between Israel] and the Palestinians is to pressure Damascus, and weaken its negotiating position, and this is to a large extent correct.

For Syria is aware that the West Bank is more important than the Golan Heights, and that Jerusalem is more important than Mount Hermon, and that the Arab consensus supports the Palestinian right [to establish a State]. When we saw the US delegations arriving in Damascus over the past two days, it became clear that the Americans, despite their continued sanctions against Damascus, are prepared to sponsor Syria’s negotiations with Israel. However will the [Israeli] Prime Minister be able to handle the problem of the internal opposition towards the issue of the Golan Heights [at the same time as Tel Aviv is negotiating with Palestine]? Secondly, will the Americans agree to the primary Syrian condition that the negotiations do not begin from square one? I believe that it is in the interests of the Americans to meet the Syrian demand, and in order to save time and effort, because all of the previous negotiations reached essential understandings with regards to the Syrian right to its occupied territories, and the Israeli right to security guarantees.

Despite its importance, the most significant thing is not the negotiations, as these may fail at an early stage, but rather the change in US foreign policy on all major issues. We can now say that there is an Obamist policy in the Middle East region in general…a policy that is utilizing persuasion rather than pressure, for although Washington has issued sanctions against Tehran, it has never used the language of military threats, despite the fact that that the Iranian leadership has issued threats [against the US], and has begun to construct more nuclear sites. Despite all of this, the US State Department has said that the door for negotiations [with Iran] is always open.

It can also be said that this US mediation is taking place during an exceptionally relaxed Arab atmosphere, for this is the first time [in the Arab world] that you one does not read articles or analysis criticizing the US President. Obama has created a great reputation for himself in this region, despite the fact that he has not actually achieved anything for the Arabs, and this is something that never happened with the previous 43 presidents.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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