James Zogby: US Stakes High in Mideast Peace Talks

Wednesday, 31 Jul 2013 11:14 AM

By Cathy Burke

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Expectations are low for the resumption of long-stalled Mideast peace talks in Washington, and that's "a good thing," says James Zogby, Arab American Institute president.

But the stakes for the United States are precipitously high — and that's not a good thing.

"There's a clear concern" the impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians "impedes our ability to work with allies in the region to protect our interests," Zogby says. "This is, at the end of the day, bigger than the Israelis and the Palestinians. It's about us."

In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, Zogby said it appears Secretary of State John Kerry is moving cautiously in this latest round of talks.

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"The bar's been set low and expectations are low and that's actually a good thing," Zogby says. "In the past, we've always had expectations too high and they get let down. Kerry's playing it right. It's a minimum of expectation and a minimum of communication."

What's different this time, however, is that there is a "weariness" on the part of the Palestinians and "a wariness" for the Israelis, Zogby said.

The Palestinians, Zogby says, "just can't endure much more of this. It's not getting better for them. It's getting worse."

And the Israelis are "seeing a region that is imploding."

"They can either set themselves up as an arsenal state, a garrison state behind a wall armed at the teeth,” he says. “Or they can find a way to create a different space for themselves.”

The obstacles to peace in the region have stubbornly remained, including the issue of further Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Gaza – and Zogby believes Israel will have to come to terms with it.

"Today, we're at a half million settlers in the West Bank and Gaza," he says. "Israel keeps saying, well, we have to do this for our security. With the more settlements they build, the more aggravated the situation becomes and Palestinians become convinced not that they're doing it for security, but it's a land grab," Zogby says.

“The question's going to ultimately be up to John Kerry,” Zogby says. “How tough is he going to be, how smart is he going to be in being able to convince the Israelis that there really isn't any way to get peace if you don’t at least give the Palestinians something they can live with?”

Zogby also believes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has much to lose if the revived talks fail.

“If he doesn’t get an agreement, it's the end of the Palestinian Authority and it simply makes the point to Palestinians that … negotiations don’t work, which is the Hamas argument,” he says. “Abbas has the most to lose.”

For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “peace did not undercut his rule and it won’t undercut his rule now,” Zogby believes. And Kerry "will be known as the guy who gave it his best shot – he’s not going to get hurt in the process either.”

An agreement would be a huge boost for the U.S. as well, he says, sending a message “about America being able to help engineer a peace process. It would say we're not waning as a power but we're back and we're a power that can be trusted to do the right thing.”

On the turmoil in Egypt, Zogby believes "everyone … has to take a deep breath at this point and think to themselves, true or not, what's going to work best for the country.

"It's very clear that an absolute majority of Egyptians are not going to accept [Mohammed] Morsi back as president but at the same time, something has to be done to ease the tension in the streets and with the [Muslim] Brotherhood and … restore some order so that Egypt can move forward. You don't want to have the confrontation continue.”

In particular, he said the Muslim Brotherhood must be included in the political process.

“You have to make way for alternative voices. They did not do that and Egypt is paying the price for it right now,” he says.

In Syria, another deadly hot spot in the Middle East, Zogby warns the situation “can get worse.”

“We've probably not seen the end of this,” he says. “This has become a very difficult, bloody civil war that has a clear sectarian bent to it and you have a country that committing suicide. It's a very tragic situation.”

He also cautions against military involvement by the U.S. in Syria.

“It's got to be a negotiated settlement and those who keep pushing for America to do more militarily don't have a clue what the end game would look like,” he says. “How increased military support ultimately changes the equation makes no sense to me. I don't see an outcome.

"What I do see is America using all of its diplomatic resources to press the Russians and to press the other allies that exist for the different parties in Syria to come to some sort of negotiation process.”


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