Crimea crisis seen eroding confidence in Obama foreign policy wisdom, amid renewed calls for congressional voice in negotiations

  • Crimea crisis seen eroding confidence in Obama foreign policy wisdom, amid renewed calls for congressional voice in negotiations
  • Egypt court outlaws Hamas activities, in latest blow to reeling Palestinian terror group
  • Netanyahu AIPAC speech calls on Palestinians to "stand with Israel and the United States" in forging peace, regional benefits of Israeli-Palestinian deal
  • WSJ: Initiatives to boost Palestinian economy "slow to show" benefits


    • ·         Analysts, journalists, and lawmakers on Tuesday continued to unpack the geopolitical consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine - both in general and specifically in the context of Middle East crises the White House is scrambling to contain - with evaluations building on assessments that the impending U.S.-Russia chill will badly complicate the Obama administration's strategy of relying on Russia to help resolve diplomatic deadlocks with Syria and Iran. The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Ukraine in their Monday Oval Office meeting, while David Rieff - a foreign policy voice not known for sympathy toward robust U.S. interventionism - tersely evaluated public debate over the Crimean conflagration as one in which "those who believe that Iran will never relinquish its nuclear weapons program... look at American impotence in Ukraine and worry it’s a harbinger of the future." Walter Russell Mead went further, declaring that "Putin’s Crimean adventure... shakes the foundations of the President’s world strategy," and specifically asking "if [Obama] could be this blind and misguided about [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khamenei, a much more difficult figure to read?" Mead suggested that the White House's near-total failure to predict Russia's behavior - U.S. intelligence got its prediction of the Crimean invasion exactly backwards - will undermine Obama's efforts to convince Middle East allies, most especially Israel, that Washington can be trusted in evaluating those allies' security needs. The erosion in the president's foreign policy credibility seems set to fuel renewed calls, supported by lopsided majorities of Americans, for stricter Congressional oversight over negotiations with Iran.


    • An Egyptian court on Tuesday outlawed all activities by the Palestinian Hamas faction inside the country, the latest move in a campaign to isolate the terror group, which has been waged by Egypt's army - and later by the country's army-backed government - since well before the July 2013 overthrow of the country's then-President Mohammed Morsi. The ruling comes months after senior Hamas officials had already begun publicly bemoaning how Egypt's army-backed government had left them politically and economically "sentenced to death." The inauguration of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Morsi had been seen as a boon for Hamas, which describes itself as the Brotherhood's Palestinian wing. The Egyptian army, which blames Hamas for facilitating the movement of jihadist equipment and personnel into the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, soon launched a media campaign to consolidate public sentiment against Hamas and began acting against the group while sidelining Morsi. The army's campaign to target Hamas's smuggling tunnels, which link the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai, quickly picked up pace after Morsi's ouster, alongside efforts by Egypt's subsequent army-backed government to decapitate the Brotherhood's leadership hierarchy. By last January senior Egyptian security officials were telling Reuters that they were ready to focus more of their resources on targeting the Gaza Strip. The reemergence of an Egyptian government sympathetic to Hamas currently seems unlikely. Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi signaled on Tuesday that he will compete in upcoming presidential elections, in which he is widely expected to glide to victory.


    • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Tuesday to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, calling on Palestinian leaders to "stand with Israel and the United States on the right side of the moral divide, the side of peace, reconciliation and hope." Israel's left-leaning Ha'aretz headlined its coverage of the speech "Netanyahu: Israel prepared to make peace, but Abbas must recognize Jewish state," sub-headlined the story with "millions in the Arab world could benefit from Israeli technology and innovation, prime minister tells AIPAC conference," and quoted the prime minister declaring he was "prepared to make historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors." The outlet's evaluation was echoed by the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, who noted that Netanyahu "dwelled at length on the peace process" and "gave a new rationale for Israel’s desire for a peace deal – the promise of improved and robust relations with Arab states." For their part top Palestinian officials declared that Netanyahu's speech was unacceptable to the point that it amounted to "an official announcement of a unilateral end to negotiations."


    • The Wall Street Journal assessed on Monday that a series of initiatives designed to bolster the Palestinian economy had - per the outlet's archly written headline - been "slow to show" any benefits, with half a year having passed since "Secretary of State John Kerry announced an ambitious economic plan to channel $4 billion into Palestinian business sectors." The Journal described "promised investments" as having remained "as hazy as the sandstorm that enveloped... Jericho’s Intercontinental Hotel" during a recent investment conference. February had seen a wave of analysis linking halting economic progress to endemic Palestinian corruption stretching back literally decades, and Palestinian journalist and activist Daoud Kuttab wrote on Monday that efforts have recently renewed in the Palestinian Legislative Council to pass transparency laws. Palestinian economic dysfunction has traditionally been identified as one of at least four structural barriers hampering the emergence of anything that might pass for a viable Palestinian state. Analysts and scholars have also focused on Ramallah's lack of political legitimacy - Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is in the ninth year of a four-year term - as well as on the persistence of rival Palestinian governments and the existence of multiple armed Palestinian factions. A territorial split between rival governments, with Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip, or the absence of a monopoly on violence would by definition render a Palestinian state a failed one.

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