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Jones: Israeli-Palestinian strife still core of ME ills
Herb Keinon
Jerusalem Post, 02/08/2011

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the core problem in the Middle East, and solving it will go a long way toward securing regional and even global peace, James Jones, US President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, said Monday.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Jones rejected the premise that the current tumult in Egypt disproved this.

“I’m of the belief that had God appeared in front of President Obama in 2009 and said if he could do one thing on the face of the planet, and one thing only, to make the world a better place and give people more hope and opportunity for the future, I would venture that it would have something to do with finding the two-state solution to the Middle East,” Jones said.

Speaking to reporters after addressing the conference, Jones said Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians was the “knot that is at the center of mass.”

He added that Israeli-Palestinian peace was the one thing that extremists and Iran would “most not like to see happen,” and that the ripple effect would go far beyond the region.

A retired marine general, he was a central US figure in the diplomatic process for the last four years, beginning as former president George Bush’s special envoy for Middle East security, and continuing as Obama’s national security adviser until late last year.

Making it clear that he was speaking in a private capacity and not on behalf of the administration, Jones said the dispute was “one of the most important issues on the planet, and it affects just about everything from the security standpoint.”

But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a completely different take, telling a group of visiting European parliamentarians at the Knesset that whoever thought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was part of the problem in the Middle East was “trying to escape reality.”

“At the end of the day, it is clear to everyone, even to the Palestinian Authority, that the greatest danger they are facing is not Zionism, but rather Hamas and Jihad,” Lieberman said. “The big picture of the Middle East shows that major points of contention stem from challenges and confrontations within Islamic society.”

Jones, meanwhile, said in his prepared comments at the Herzliya Conference that the events currently taking place in Egypt “may shape the Middle East for years to come.”

“Tempting as it may be,” he said, “may I suggest this is not the time to be passive, to be a spectator to history, especially if you are an Israeli, American, Arab or European.”

While saying it was too soon to speculate about how the Egyptian unrest would play out, he added that “we all know that, unlike in Las Vegas, what happens in Egypt will not stay in Egypt.”

Jones said that in his personal opinion, a peace process that showed the promise of near-term progress “drives nearly everything, everything else that threatens us, everything that happens in this region, and which has global ramifications if not addressed.”

First, the status quo is not in the interest of Israel or the greater region, he said.

“The failed peace process undermines Arab moderates,” he said, adding that economic constraints from a lack of progress would result in a lack of economic development that would incite “the young and hopeless class seeking to have a better future.”

“Time is not on our side, and a failure to act may trigger other Egyptlike demonstrations in other countries in the region,” he told conference- goers. “Moderate Arab support could diminish in the near future if peace is not seen to be an achievable objective.”

Jones said that the benefit to Iran of the continued dispute “strengthens and amplifies its appeal, and the appeal of its message, to the oppressed and those who felt they have no future beyond violence.”

He added that Teheran feared a resolution of the conflict, “and benefits by the divided attention of the global community. Hamas and Hizbullah draw strength from the Palestinian issue.”

What was needed in the diplomatic process, he concluded, was “both a top-down and bottom-up approach to this process. It is not an either-or. This is a false choice that ignores reality, diverts attention and retards progress. It must be simultaneously done and reinforcing.”

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