Broader than party politics

For the most part, the United States government builds its strategies on national interests rather than on narrow party or personal politics. Nevertheless, the recent congressional elections inspired debate over possible effects on American Middle East policies, the peace process in particular. The reason for this is that in the eyes of some analysts and politicians, the current administration is leaning a little bit on Israel, especially on the issue of settlements. They believe that the new Republican-majority House of Representatives might restrain the administration.

Although the American approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed significantly between the previous Republican administration and the current Democratic one, the change is not necessarily influenced by the differing politics of the Democratic party. Indeed, the "lessons learned" from the shortcomings of the previous administration were put on the table well before the elections.

It might help here reminding ourselves of the findings of the Baker Hamilton Commission (also known as the Iraq Study Group), that was established by the previous administration. Its conclusions–that US engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a strategic national interest-have clearly been integrated into the approach of the current administration.

In other words, the US political establishment has carried out a process of self-criticism and recognized the need for change in a cross-party manner. One example is the need for active American and international Middle East diplomacy. The danger that ongoing deterioration of conditions in the Middle East poses to US interests and the inter-relation of the various conflicts of the Middle East are pushing the US administration to act and be involved where its predecessor was absent.

That doesn’t mean that the fact that the Republicans have divided the Congress will not have an effect on Obama’s Middle East policy, nor that there are no differences in the two parties in their understanding and approach to the region. The conclusion drawn here, however, is that the effect of this change is not going to be strategic or dramatic.

Barack Obama’s approach to the conflict, characterized by intimate engagement and close diplomacy based on a deep conviction that this conflict has a negative impact on US Middle East interests, will continue in one way or another. Hopefully, the fact that significant progress has not been made will not deter the administration. Frankly, things could have been much worse had the administration refrained from extensive diplomacy and attention from the first week of Obama’s presidency.

Another factor to be considered is the attitude of major US partners in Middle East peace efforts, particularly Europe, which has expressed growing urgency toward the Middle East, pushing the United States toward more engagement and clearer positions.

Finally, the dangerous radicalization in Israel– evident in extreme right-wing political positions, aggressive practices vis-a-vis the occupied territories, settlement expansion, and publicly-stated racist tendencies–are encouraging the United States to remain closely involved. Ultimately, it seeks to control deterioration and encourage progress in negotiations and hopefully an agreement that will bring about an end to the occupation and, consequently, much-anticipated peace and security.