APN call to Obama: Pressure Israel, Palestinians; ain’t gonna happen
01/21/2010 - 15:00
James Besser

In the wake of Tuesdays’ disastrous election results for the Democrats, Americans for Peace Now (APN) wants President Obama to ratchet up Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, even if it means getting  tough with both sides.

Sorry, guys, I know what you’re saying, but it ain’t gonna happen.

The group, reflecting growing frustration on the left with the Obama administration’s big promises but fitful actions,  said that “It is time for the US to adopt a tough tone and to use tough language, in public and private, with all parties.  This means stating unambiguously that the achievement of a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is vital to US national security and that actions by any party that undermine the achievement of this goal threaten those interests.   It means issuing public statements that are sharply critical in the face of intransigence and delay tactics by the parties.”

Leaving aside the question of whether that’s smart policy or not, politics suggests the administration is likely to move in the opposite direction.

Tuesday’s loss of a Massachusetts senate seat held by Democrats for a half century is likely to make this administration more risk averse when it comes to policy.

Liberals argue that this president was so determined to win an impossible consensus on critical issues that he ignored his political base and let the Republicans define his presidency, and there’s a lot of truth to that assessment.

But I see an administration and a party that are running scared, especially with their poll standings heading to the basement only nine months before  congressional midterm elections.

The message I expect President Obama has taken away from the Massachusetts debacle: focus on winnable battles  and on on those areas where voter discontent is most acute  -  jobs on the domestic scene, terrorism internationally.

Calling the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace “winnable” is a stretch in the best of circumstances – and with neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas interested in taking the political risks peace process progress will require, the timing is hardly fortuitous.

There’s no big domestic constituency pushing for Middle East peace,  and powerful groups are ready to jump in with guns blazing the moment the administration shows any inclination to turn up the heat on Israel.

APN is probably right that U.S. pressure on both sides is the only strategy with any real hope of pushing the two sides back to the negotiating table.

But the combination of a precarious political situation for the Democrats and an wretched climate in the region mean the politics of the situation will keep the administration doing what it’s doing now: talking up peace, sending special envoy George Mitchell on endless missions to the region but refraining from big proposals and big-time pressure.

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