Prospects for Peace in the Middle East?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Anti Government protesters Take to the Streets of Jordan (Salah Malkawi/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister (2002-2004) and deputy prime minister (2004-2005) of Jordan, and author of The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation, discussed the possibilities for peace in the Middle East and Jordan and Saudi Arabia's roles in the process.

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have raised many questions for the Arab world. One big one on the table is how all these changes will affect prospects for peace in the Middle East?

Political reform may be be just as important as peace. Marwan Muasher argued, with so much attention on Israel, many Arab governments have ignored their own domestic issues. The importance of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed in 1979 in the U.S., has been frequently cited since the protests began. With the stability of Egypt's government now in question, will Egypt reverse its position on Israel? Muasher doesn't think so.

I don't think there is any sentiment in Egypt that calls for abrogating the peace treaty...there is certainly a widespread sentiment against Israeli policies and a widespread sentiment against a war on peace in Israel, but that is very different from abrogating a peace treaty with Israel that, in my opinion, most Egyptians still would like to keep.

In fact, Muasher went on to say, this isn't really about Israel.

This is about governments in the Arab world. Israel has many times used one excuse or the other not to sign the peace treaty with Arab states, at times invoking either Iraq or it's invoking what's happening in Egypt. The time has come, in my view, for a regional peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world.

Muasher called this an opportunity for the region and said that Saudi Arabia is in a good position to make it happen. Even though a framework for this peace plan already exists and was presented back in 2002, it hasn't  beeen implemented. Mausher said he's called on President Obama to back a regional peace plan (as has Thomas Friedman of The New York Times and Steve Clemons of the American Strategy Program), but Muasher said Israel and the Arab countries can't do it alone.

The fact today is that the two parties on their own are not able to bridge the gap to bring them to a successful conclusion, a conclusion that everybody knows what the parameters of a settlement is, and so when President Obama puts a package on the table, this is not imposing a peace agreement on the two parties, this is using what initiatives have been there in the first place to help the two parties conclude an agreement.

In the New York Times on Tuesday and in the Washington Post on Wednesday, Muasher also called on Saudi Arabia to consider a regional peace plan again. In his book, he argues that Arab political reform has not succeeded because Arab moderates have not addressed the issue of governance in the same way they've addressed the peace process. Since they have been unsuccessful at both, they've lost credibility with their own publics. Egypt is one glaring example, he said.

It's interesting to see today that the demonstrators in Egypt or Tunisia, for that fact, are not talking about Israel, are not talking about America, are not talking about regional issues. They are talking about their own domestic affairs and that, in my view, is healthy.

He went on to say that the peace process and political reform must be considered in tandem. He said that may not happen right away, but it's inevitable.

I do see the need for a credible reform process, a gradual but serious reform process needing to be started in all Arab countries. I don't see a domino effect happening today, but I do see that this reform issue is something that Arab governments can no longer ignore in their policies.


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Comments [7]

Moshe Sharon from Florida

An Arab from Gaza and a self-confessed member of Hamas once asked me, “How can we have peace?” I though it was a strange question coming from a terrorist. When I asked him if he was ready to recognize Israel's right to exist, he answered, “There is no such country as 'Israel'; there is only Palestine, my country.” That's why negotiating peace with Hamas or any other Arab faction is a fool's errand. In this man’s mind, Israel’s right to exist is not an issue because there is no Israel; there is just a large, well-armed group of space-occupying Jewish squatters, who deserve death. Furthermore, every U.S. president keeps saying the same mantra, “They [Palestinian Authority] must recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Correction; they must first recognize that Israel exists. Actually, somebody forgot to tell all of the politicians that we Jews don’t need their permission to exist as a nation; G-d gave that to us at Mount Sinai. Http://

Mar. 14 2011 02:23 PM
Herb E from NYC

Encourge the President & members of Congress to change the nature of the aid to Egypt from military credits to economic and social credits. This is a win for America, a win for American allies in the area, and a win for Egypt. The massive military buildup in Egypt is destabilizing. With the acknowledged precarious nature of Egypt's government and the ever-present danger of its growing fundamentalist movement (Brotherhood), it is far more in America's interest to attend to the political, social, and economic needs of the Egyptian people so our country can help create a less desperate situation.

The economic impact to America is neutral, since the money comes in the form of credits to buy US goods. It would be better to let the Egyptian people buy our cars, our computers, our construction equipment, and other American goods. This policy would encourage peace and a more stable Egypt. It would also produce demand for American products beyond the scope of foreign aid.

Feb. 03 2011 09:27 AM

The "Peace process" is a euphemism for : Let us not make any changes , none are needed, as long as our public demonstration of participating in the danse of negotiations is widely broadcasted.
The real issues are never addressed, each successive "Peace Proposal " being more about this one reelection or status in some polls. The inherent conflict remain as long as the place that should be ONE country is kept divided into an apartheid of Israelis and Palestinians. We have no business supporting either , they stand against everything that we believe.. We should only support efforts that "Unite" them into one country following the example we created: United states.

Feb. 03 2011 09:01 AM
Drs. Michael Kesler and Barbara Reed from new jersey

In proposing the peace terms, Saudi Arabia assures that all Arab states would then establish diplomatic relations with Israel. That does not include Iran, which is not an Arab state, Israel's most dangerous enemy. Furthermore, there is no assurance that Hezbollah, Hamas, and, in time, the Brotherhood in Egypt-- which may well come to power soon--will honor that peace.

Feb. 02 2011 11:44 AM
Ed Resor from Manhattan

Does Mr. Muasher think that eGovernment and other Internet based reporting systems can make a significant difference in reducing corruption and protecting the human rights and dignity of average citizens?

The King of Jordan has tried this. Has it helped?

Feb. 02 2011 11:27 AM
Janet from Yonkers

It is time for our president to talk tough to the Egyptian army about stopping the violence and getting rid of Mubarak. We have a lot of leverage since we give them over 1 1/2 billion dollars a year. No peace - no more money!

Feb. 02 2011 11:24 AM

If "everyone knows what the parameters of a peace agreement are," then just get it done already.

I can't stand that an American president - any American president - is judged by his ability to drag these two sides to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, these stubborn fools can raise their profiles by keeping the president dancing to their tune.

Feb. 02 2011 11:18 AM

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