US, EU, and Mideast Cannot Afford a Time-out

Posted by Gerald Loftus on 02/02/10
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When Israel-Palestine merits not a word from a president, you know the United States is turning inward.

Roger Cohen, New York Times, 28 January 2010, “Exit America

The same Cohen op-ed indicates that only nine minutes were devoted to international affairs in President Obama’s first State of the Union message last month. And now we hear about how intra-EU wrangling over which of its several “Présidents” will shake Obama’s hand first at the US-EU Summit may mean that none of them will get to do so – if the US President doesn’t attend.

Sorry, folks, this just won’t do. Adult leadership is required on both sides of the Atlantic if the warring parties on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean are ever to be encouraged to make peace.

It’s not a problem that needs more time – Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza have lasted the better part of a half century, and 90 years ago this month, in February 1920, the “powers” were meeting in the Conference of London – one of a series of conclaves to divvy up the defunct Ottoman Empire – and we know how that turned out.

Last month, a few days before the “SOTU” speech that ignored the Israel-Palestine situation, I chaired a panel in Brussels that looked at the unsatisfactory state of Western efforts to bring about a lasting peace. Despite the hope this time last year (Inauguration of Obama, his appointment of George Mitchell), the anniversary of the Israel campaign against Gaza reminds us how little has changed, except that Israel now has a government bent on expanding its settlements throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem. But in our conference, what was clear was that both sides of the pond needed to keep each other engaged.

The United States remains Israel’s primary security guarantor, and the European Union’s financial assistance allows the Palestinian Authority to remain in business. It would appear that the US and the EU have many things to talk about, and might want to better coordinate their use of what should be considerable leverage with both parties to the conflict.

What better way than to end the “egotistical wrangling” over lining up to shake hands? And for the US, to use the EU-US Summit to show Europe that his Administration is not going to “go local.”

Gerald Loftus also publishes “Avuncular American,” a blog devoted to international affairs.

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