EDITORâ€”US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting China, Japan, Korea and Indonesia. The country with the worldâ€™s biggest Muslim population will be looking at President Barack Obamaâ€™s opening positions to the Muslim world.
Clintonâ€™s first overseas tour to Asia takes in US relations with China and the need for the US to recognise the rising economic power of the G30 states if it is to mobilise Asian help to fight the US recession and global economic crisis.
But the US position on the Middle East will also loom large, along with concerns on how the US will handle global Muslim hot-spots in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.The United States is changing position from the Bush line to shun Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the Peace Quartet (US, EU, Russia, UN) also says leaving Hamas out of the picture will not work.Yet this was the cornerstone of the position taken by Israel and the Peace Quartet after the Hamas election victory in Palestine in January 2006. The Quartet attempted to enforce three conditions for talking to Hamasâ€”recognition of Israelâ€™s right to exist, accepting all agreements that were previously signed between the PLO and Israel, and renouncing violence.
Many doubt that the Quartet was tactically or morally right to try to enforce these conditions, in support of â€œmoderationâ€ and the twin state solution, by shunning the elected Palestinian government, boycotting Hamas and blockading Gaza.
These steps allegedly towards peace, led instead to war. A war which strengthened Hamas politically and weakened Fatah in the West Bank where Hamas could easily win elections again, while Hamas still rules Gaza and can still fire rockets.
Israel has moved right in the Israeli elections and Netanyahuâ€™s Likud opposes progress to a Palestinian state. Last time in power he froze the interim peace deals of Yitzhak Rabin and blocked the Oslo 1 talks towards the twin state solution.
Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and ultra-orthodox Shas can block progress to a peace deal, backed by the settlers, but may agree a long term truce and economic co-operation. It is hard to see how a Likud-Kadima coalition can conclude peace talks on a twin state, while a Kadima-Labour coalition looks too weak and has no valid Palestinian peace partner, apart from a non-elected government in the West Bank. Ex-President Carter has called for talks with Hamas and Ex-President Clinton has talked with them and condemned the blockade of Gaza as a crime and an atrocity.
President Obamaâ€™s appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East peace mediator brings practical experience in defusing the issue of terrorism, alongside political talks, with an understanding of Irish politics and the wisdom of his Lebanese mother.
In an interview on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel, Obama said he supported a Palestinian state that is contiguous (ie. with adjacent touching territories) and with internal freedom of movement, that can trade with neighbouring countries.
This is a good start. The Clinton visit to Jakarta may confirm a tiny hint that the tide of history is turning. Israel must note changing attitudes in the USA, as well as in demographics and attitudes in Israel and Palestine. The twin state solution may not survive, or may become an optional route towards a wider Middle East settlement based on economic and political cooperation.
It must not become a false trail, forced upon Israelis and Palestinians from outside. If both sides reject it, it is not the end of the world, so long as we get a modus operandi. There are plenty of options that can eventually work, with support from both sides, preferably expressed through the ballot box.
But if the US can lift the roadblock, can the Israelis and Palestinians walk down the road ?
Dr Terry Lacey
Is US foreign policy on ME changing?