Friday, August 20, 2010

Pray For The President And Jerusalem Peace

It was surprising that as soon as he was sworn in in 2009, Barack Obama put the full authority of his office behind a Middle East peace initiative, which soon stalled because of Israel's stubbornness about building new West Bank settlements and Palestinian intransigence about coming back to the table. And it's astonishing that he's trying again in the teeth of a midterm election. To satisfy the Palestinian side, Secretary of State Clinton gave the talks a one-year limit, which means that Obama could have a massive embarrassment on his hands at the end of 2011, just as he tools up for a reelection bid.

Which is why it's important to understand that we're seeing Obama at his substantive best here, betting on nebulous hopes for peace instead of acting through the understandable fear of failure by which the last two presidents chose to leave the Middle East until the ends of their terms, when they had virtually nothing to lose (and correspondingly less leverage).

Obama has played his cards skillfully. After the U.S. was humiliated in March when the Israeli government announced new housing in East Jerusalem as VP Biden was visiting, Obama turned up the heat on Prime Minister Netanyahu, making him earn his way back into the our graces. Worried friends of Israel said they feared he was turning out to be the most anti-Israel president in recent memory. In certain quarters, speculation no doubt abounded that that he was under secret Muslim discipline, taking late-night calls from a cabal of imams. But he let Bibi come in from the wilderness soon enough. Now, as "Politico" notes:
[T]he United States will enter the new talks with new assets: a stronger public relationship with Israel's hawkish prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, confidence in Palestinian efforts on the ground and an appreciation for the tedious, incremental path forward.
This seemingly impossible challenge is ideally suited to Obama's ability to listen to all sides and inspire them to move forward together. If he succeeds and gets a final-status deal, he'll have earned his Nobel Peace Prize and perhaps more.

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