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Mideast Conflict Looms for Next U.S. President

As the presidential hopefuls define their foreign policy agendas for the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to present a unique set of challenges to the next commander-in-chief. Analysts mull the obstacles to ending the decades-long conflict.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    As Democratic hopeful Barack Obama visited Jordan and Israel this week, he promised to work on the Arab-Israeli conflict, quote, "from the minute I am sworn into office."

    But Obama also said he realizes that a U.S. president cannot just snap his fingers and achieve peace in the region.

    For decades, Middle East peace has been an elusive target for presidents of both parties. For a look at the challenges that will face a President Obama or a President McCain on that front, we turn to our Mideast analyst team.

    David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, he's a former editor of the Jerusalem Post and diplomatic correspondent for Ha'aretz newspaper.

    And Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for the Al Arabiya cable channel and correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.

    And welcome back to both of you.

    So if the next president decides to jump in to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict, what is he going to find on the ground? Hisham, let's begin with you. Is it a more or less challenging, maybe even perilous situation than it was the last time the United States had a new president?

    HISHAM MELHEM, Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya: To begin with, the next American president will be forced, regardless of his intentions, to be focusing on the old so-called arc of crisis: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan.

    If he's going to focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, he's going to find an arid landscape, because the Bush administration, essentially, not to stand in the pronouncement, to talk about the two states and all the vision, it's an arid landscape because we have more settlements in the Palestinian territories.

    We have deeper disenchantment and disillusionment on the part of the Israelis and the Palestinians. It's like we don't want to live together anymore. And you have an accumulation of bitterness and cynicism.

    And then you have the rise of the maximalists and the extremists. And they are carrying the day.

    And for the first time, you have throughout the Arab world, in fact, but in Israel, as well as on the Arab side, weak leadership that is seen as ineffective or incapable of delivering on peace promise or making the tough — the required tough decision to move the peace process forward.

    We all know what are the contours for finding peace. I mean, we're not going to re-invent the wheel here. But the fact that sometimes you have the Arabs are not ready; sometimes the Israelis are not ready; sometimes the American administration is not ready; sometimes conditions are not ripe in the reason.

    And so for the last seven years, the Middle East proved once again you ignore the Middle East at your own peril. And by that peril, I mean Palestinians, Israelis, and even Americans.

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