Obama's efforts to broker peace deal could be shelved


MIDDLE EAST REACTION:PRESIDENT BARACK Obama may face major challenges in the Middle East with Republicans demanding changes in foreign policy after their victory in the House of Representatives polls.

Analysts suggest his effort to broker a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis could be shelved due to the shift in the balance of power in the house.

Commentators argue that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – who has refused to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and put forward Israel’s positions on key issues – will be strengthened by Republicans who depend on evangelical Christians intimately connected with the Israeli right and committed to Israel’s retention of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Republicans with close ties to Israel are set to assume key posts in the house. The next majority leader, Eric Cantor, has proposed incorporating into the US defence budget $3 billion (€2.14 billion) in annual aid to Israel to protect this sum from budget cuts and use as leverage. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, a vehement supporter of Israel, is to assume the chair of the house foreign relations committee.

University of Michigan’s Prof Juan Cole predicts that failure to secure the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel could lead to “uprisings and terrorism directed in part at the US”.

Republicans may press Mr Obama to adopt a tougher stance on Iran because of its refusal to halt its nuclear programme. This could antagonise an already hostile Tehran, which could retaliate by undermining US interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a bid to delay the US departure from Iraq, Republicans could call for hearings on Mr Obama’s plans to withdraw troops by the beginning of 2012.

Republicans could seek to realise the objectives of the former Republican administration, such as establishing permanent military bases in the country and securing control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves, the world’s second largest, for US multinationals.

Such a shift in policy could prompt the next Iraqi government to demand total removal of the US presence and lead to the resumption of attacks by radical Shias on US forces and installations.

Hearings on Afghanistan could, similarly, be used to delay the US pullout, which Mr Obama is seeking to begin next year.

The Republican majority in the house could press Mr Obama and the military to deepen US involvement in the ongoing struggle against al-Qaeda in Yemen. Open US intervention could put at risk the weak Yemeni government, however, and encourage tribesmen to join forces with al-Qaeda.