President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell would be well advised to adopt a two-fold Middle East policy: short term and long term.
The Obama administration will have to address on an immediate basis a number of burning problems of varying degrees of magnitude. In the short run it will be required to tackle the rehabilitation of Gaza under Hamas' rule: On the one hand to secure aid to assure the fundamental wellbeing of its inhabitants, while at the same time curtailing the influx of weaponry into Gaza. The fight against terror, its performers and sources has to be continued in all vigor. The belligerent policy of Hamas should be continuously subject to international boycott and isolation with minimal ill effects on the population.
The Obama administration will be called upon to regularize the settlement issue, canonize prevailing understandings with the outgoing Israeli government and see to it that it that they are being respected and duly implemented.
In the realm of the immediate policy is the contemplated dialogue with Iran. The Americans must see to it that the dialogue doesn't eclipse ongoing Iranian endeavors to acquire nuclear capacity to the degree that it could constitute a worldwide threat.
The encounter with Iran should be conducted with determination. It is imperative that the outcome should be unequivocal. Otherwise Saddam Hussein's Iraq will be a fairytale in comparison. It is of critical importance to contain Iran. On Iraq, President Obama seems to have made up his mind to gradually withdraw American troops. In the aftermath the stability of the Iraqi regime will also be affected by an overall comprehensive Mideast peace process, which should be the long term goal of the Obama administration.
Whereas the two-state solution ought to be reiterated, for the time being it is an untenable proposition. It will be a grave mistake to pursue the Annapolis track against all odds.
Revive Madrid process
As long as Hamas remains defiant of any peace agreement with Israel while acting as a full-fledged extremist Iranian agent, we are much closer to the establishment of two Palestinian states than to reaching a two-state solution. The precarious rule of President Abbas, who is at pains to prosecute his Israeli counterparts for the peace negotiations as war criminals, is conducive to an inflammable fiasco.
The principle of "two states" is valid, but its time is not ripe, mainly because of the overshadowing stumbling block of Hamas.
The structure of the comprehensive peace process should be founded on the Arab peace initiative incorporated into the Madrid process, which must be revived.
The Madrid process, which will take into account agreements and understandings achieved thus far, is the only available vehicle to hit the road to comprehensive peace.
It provides a viable, existing and proven framework that calls for historic reconciliation and compromise alongside plans and endeavors for regional cooperation in economic and practically all walks of life.
Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos could remind his European colleagues and Mrs. Clinton of the virtues of this process. For a short while, following the Madrid Conference (1991), the region was an altogether "new Middle East", filled with hope, reconciliation and cooperation. True, there are new circumstances, but not all of them turned for the worst. The Madrid process is essentially the balanced and enriched implementation of the Arab peace initiative.
President Obama and his bailiffs Clinton and Mitchell would be well advised not to lose time and restore the Madrid formula. If you reach Madrid, Annapolis will have become a station on the journey to comprehensive peace.
Eytan Bentsur is the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry