Arab Media Worries: How Will GOP Gains Affect U.S. Mideast Policy?

Arab Media Worries: How Will GOP Gains Affect U.S. Mideast Policy?

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American voters were not necessarily thinking about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or the peace process in the Middle East, but those issues were uppermost in the minds of people living in those regions as they watched the results of Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections.

Ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis are anticipating Obama’s new approach towards the war in Afghanistan, which has been raging for nine years.  Al Jazeera correspondent Kamal Hyder said, “Everyone in this part of the world is already wondering if (the Republican comeback) will make the Obama administration more hawkish with regard to its policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The Republican Party's rebound raises serious questions about  Obama’s ability to win a second term in 2012. Hyder continued, “With that in mind, the outcome of the war in Afghanistan will be crucial to the Democrats to regain some of the lost support.”  Arab journalists and scholars have long argued that winning the war in Afghanistan is impossible without reaching a political settlement with the Taliban. 

There are indications that the Obama administration has been trying to do just that, Hyder said. “For the past few weeks, there has been an intense barrage of reports of behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try and find a political settlement to the Afghan problem as the deadline for the beginning of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is due to begin in 2011.” These diplomatic maneuvers include negotiations with the Taliban — an approach the United States no longer opposes.

This, however, might become more difficult with the Republican comeback, especially when considering that Obama already is at odds with both General David Petraeus, who is now top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and retired General Stanley McChrystal, who was recently forced out after an interview in which he criticized Obama's policies there.

Bob Woodward wrote in the Washington Post that Obama rejected their plans for adding 40,000 troops to the conflict and broadening operations there. Obama’s strategy instead has been a short-term surge of 30,000 troops to insure that the US army can withdraw by 2013. 

General Petraeus was quoted as saying: "I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. ... This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives." In contrast, Obama was quoted as saying, “"Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint." 

General McChrystal was dismissed in June 2010. It remains to be seen how the differences on Afghanistan will be resolved between Petraeus and Obama, now that Petraeus has the GOP-dominated House of Representatives on his side.

in it's election analysis, Al Jazeera -Arabic focused on how the return of the Republicans might affect the Middle East peace process. Obama’s ability to pursue Israel might be weakened further, it noted.

Naser Al Husseini, an Al Jazeera correspondent in Florida, noted that AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had recently met for two days in Miami. He said this closed-door meeting, which included some congressmen willing to pay $3,600 to attend, was not about the economic problems facing America. “Rather, it was held to discuss the options of Israel and AIPAC and the new political map” 

Al Husseini commented, “AIPAC has been worried for a while about Obama policies, such as pressuring Netanyahu to stop the settlements and pressuring Israel to set on the negotiation table with the Palestinians.” He added that one can expect that attendees discussed ways to insure the continued American support to Israel in a clearer and more vocal manner during the meetings.

In addition, J Street, a liberal-leaning lobbying group, and other progressive Jewish organizations that have been supported by Obama, will be weakened because they will have fewer sympathetic ears in a Republican-controlled House. AIPAC has a great deal of support from Christian fundamentalist and right-wing conservatives who tend to be Republicans. According to Husseini, this may deepen the division within the American Jewish community over Obama’s approach towards the peace process in the Middle East.

Al Husseini said  the J Street members are known for their loyalty to Obama and his vision for the peace process,— the primary difference between  that group and AIPAC.

Chibley Telhami, professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, told Al Jazeera, “I believe that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the Israeli government have bigger support among the Republican Party and therefore, they may constrain the ability of Obama to maneuver politically.”

The Obama administration has been trying to revive the peace process, but its efforts were halted on September 26, 2010, because the Israeli government refused to extend the settlement freeze.

Asharq Al Awsat newspaper reported that a proposal for recognizing a Palestinian state was created on condition that the Palestinian Authority agrees to lease to the Israeli government its settlements in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

Al Quds AL Alarabi newspaper cited Israeli Radio, saying that the US made this proposal during a meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Washington. According to the same newspaper, Netanyahu agreed to the leasing idea, but he wanted the land to be leased for 99 years instead of seven years.

This proposal, which could have pushed the peace process forward, might now be placed on hold. With the Republicans running the House, Obama is now in a weaker position to put pressure on Israel to agree on another settlement freeze, which is necessary to resume the peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.