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U.S. May Have To Shift Approach To Mideast Peace

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U.S. May Have To Shift Approach To Mideast Peace

Middle East

U.S. May Have To Shift Approach To Mideast Peace

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As far as U.S. interests in the Middle East, one job has just gotten harder: the Arab-Israeli peace process. That's in part because the U.S. lost a key player when Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office in Egypt. He had been a central figure in negotiations for decades. Also, the rest of the players in the talks have not been looking their best after Palestinian documents about the peace process were leaked to the media.

Now, some experts say it's time for a totally new approach, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: President Obama seems to be trying to look on the bright side. Protesters in Egypt were driven mainly by anger against their authorities rather than against the U.S. or Israel.

BARACK OBAMA: When you have the kinds of young people who were in Tahrir Square, feeling that they have hope and they have opportunity, then they're less likely to channel all their frustrations into anti- Israeli sentiment or anti-Western sentiment, because they see the prospect of building their own country.

KELEMEN: But he also acknowledges that the U.S. is facing a more challenging environment, because with democracies come a wider variety of views at the negotiating tables.

Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Palestinian negotiators, now a research fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, says U.S. mediators in past peace talks always took into account Israeli public opinion, but not the Palestinians.

DIANA BUTTU: For example, they would say, well, we can't halt settlement activity now because Israeli public opinion won't take it. And there was never this equivalent sense of doing the same when it came to Palestinians and to Palestine.

KELEMEN: That, she argues, will now have to change.

A former Israeli negotiator, Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation, says the Obama administration may need some time to adjust to this new reality.

DANIEL LEVY: It's difficult to be a friend of Arab democracy if you are perceived to be an enemy of Palestinian freedom.

KELEMEN: Levy says to change this perception, the U.S. has to do more to end the Israeli occupation and stop, as he put it, indulging Israel.

At the moment, though, U.S. diplomats are continuing their efforts to prevent a vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would condemn Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank. And State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has given no indication that the U.S. is rethinking its strategy.

CROWLEY: We'll continue to engage both the Israelis and the Palestinians. But obviously, you know, everyone is, you know, still absorbing what has happened, what the impact is on the process.

KELEMEN: It can't be process as usual, says Levy of the New America Foundation. The U.S., he says, can no longer rely on Egypt to back talks that were going nowhere, or to continue sealing off Gaza, the territory controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Levy says Egypt and Israel will have to find new ways to keep weapons out of Gaza without punishing Palestinians. He says this may be a chance to build on what he calls a pyramid peace.

LEVY: Until now, it was only the very tips of the two pyramids that had anything to do with each other on a very narrow, often security interest related basis. A democratic Egypt and a democratic Israel could have a much broader peace. You could get the bases of those two pyramids into the peace, but only if you can also do right by the Palestinians.

KELEMEN: Levy calls this a new era for U.S. peacemakers, a time when public opinion in the Arab world matters.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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