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Israeli Prime Minister to Visit President Obama

May 18th, 2011

photo credit: Charles Dharapak/AP

Israeli Prime Minister to Visit President Obama

May 18, 2011 — The Middle East is an important region of the world that lies Southeast of the Mediterranean Sea, West of the Arabian Sea, and Northeast of the Red Sea.   The region has been a crossroads of world affairs since ancient times because major religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism began in the region, and also because advanced farming techniques were invented there. In modern times, the region has also produced a large amount of the world’s oil, used for energy in much of the world’s homes, cars, and businesses.

Sadly, the Middle East is also home to one of the longest conflicts in modern history and one that has caused enormous suffering for people on all sides. When the country of Israel was created in 1948 as a new homeland for the historically persecuted Jewish people, many of Israel’s neighbors, including Palestinians, objected to its creation. Israel and its various neighbors have fought several wars and one crucial neighbor –Egypt– has signed a peace treaty, but the situation of the Palestinian people has remained difficult and controversial to this day.

Peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders have started and stopped many times as the two sides have tried to reach agreements to end suffering and violence, and promote long-term peace and prosperity for the region. This week, protests and violence resumed on Israel’s borders and its leaders questioned the role of neighboring governments contributing to the trouble.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, will visit Washington D.C. for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on May 20th, and to address the full U.S. Congress on May 24th. President Obama reserves some of his precious time for meetings with leaders of America’s closest friends and allies, including Israel.

One goal of the meetings between leaders of these two countries is to remind one another of the longstanding friendship and trust that has historically existed between these two governments. But these meetings are also opportunities to discuss disagreements over future goals and plans, also called policies. At present, Obama and Netanyahu seem to have different ideas about the best way to pursue peace in the Middle East.

For the past two years, U.S. diplomats have worked hard to facilitate peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but recently those talks have been suspended. Prime Minister Netanyahu has recently questioned how seriously Palestinian leaders want peace, but President Obama will probably encourage him to re-start the peace process anyway. This will be extremely difficult in the months to come as neither side’s leaders have said much in recent weeks that might be helpful, and President Obama’s chief negotiator of Middle East peace resigned on May 13th.

Ultimately, the words spoken during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meetings this week are less important than the actions that he takes—and that Palestinian leaders and neighboring countries take—to promote the safety and security of people who want permanent peace in the region. Many people who have studied the Middle East conflict have wondered if a permanent, peaceful solution to this very old conflict is even possible. But the wisest history teachers remind us that world history is very hard to predict before it happens.

In the last 65 years, Western Europe, the location of centuries of conflict, has achieved a sustainable peace among 27 member countries of the European Union. Elsewhere in the world, countries long at war, including the people of Northern and Southern Sudan, have recently found ways to live together without fighting. So there is reason to be optimistic, especially if Israelis and Palestinians remain willing to sit down and change the policies that lead to conflict.

A special thank you to contributing writer, Lukas Haynes, who teaches at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. While serving at the U.S. State Department in 2000, he was part of a diplomatic delegation to Egypt where President Bill Clinton convened peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Lukas is also the father of two young children.

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