Another tough hit on Obama Middle East policies
11/22/2010 - 10:22
James Besser

Isn't this called piling on? Well, sometimes piling on is justified.

Yesterday former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer heaped what looks to me like well deserved scorn on the Obama administration's attempt to “bribe” Israel back to the peace table, and predicted it will never work.

This morning Politico's Ben Smith uses a wider club to bash the President, arguing that his unclear, seemingly naive policies in the region have managed to alienate both Israelis and Palestinians, and may actually have set back the cause of peace.

“[F]ar from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape,” Smith writes. “The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.”

Some of this, it seems to me, isn't entirely Obama's fault. Neither the Israelis nor Palestinians see a more robust peace process as a real priority; the political situations in Israel and Ramallah are hardly conducive to the risk taking that any real peace process requires.

But the President raised expectations among the Palestinians and sowed distrust among Israelis when he seemed to promise strong U.S. leadership in pressing for a quick agreement, then got slapped upside the head by a Palestinian leadership that had no interest in direct negotiations and a wily Israeli leader who shrewdly outplayed the neophyte foreign policy leader in Washington.

Smith writes: “[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma.”
And, in what strikes me as a particularly telling criticism, Smith writes “Obama has resisted advisers’ suggestions that he travel to Israel or speak directly to Israelis as he has to Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia.”

The flaw in Smith's story is that he relies heavily on the political right in Israel for much of the analysis (although he did interview Kadima leader Tzipi Livni).

But I'm 90 percent sure that if he talked to the pro-peace process left, he'd hear the flip side of the criticism in his story -  disappointment from a political faction that hoped for U.S. peace processing that was both robust and grounded in reality. It's easy to dismiss many of the hits on Obama as the product of a Jewish right that likes the current status quo just fine.  But I don't hear much confidence or praise coming from the pro-peace process left, either.

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i think you may have it backwards. the obama administration might have done things better but they have assigned the highest level people to the issue (especially Hilary Clinton) and i think they have been foiled just as most israeli governments have foiled a u.s. administration. the real story of why a 'peace process' hasn't generally worked is in the effectiveness of the israeli govt. to mobilize support for its position in the american poliical arena - especially when the two are at odds. it's easy to deduce that it follows that "it's up to the people of the region to decide" but it may be that the american and international interest in stability there is so strong that an imposed settlement becomes inevitable.