First take: Bin Laden's death, U.S. Middle East policy
05/02/2011 - 09:00
James Besser

The first email I received after the news terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces asked the inevitable question: will this embolden the Obama administration and possibly lead to a new U.S. initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and possibly new pressure on the Netanyahu government?

The short answer is, it's way too early to tell.

I expect some to argue in the next 24 hours that Bin Laden's killing will pressure the administration to address a key Muslim concern to demonstrate that we are not at war with the Muslim world, just a fanatical fringe.

Could a renewed U.S. peace push in the Middle East satisfy that requirement? Possibly.

But my initial guess is that today's dramatic headlines won't change the basic calculus surrounding U.S. peace efforts with Israel and the Palestinians.

If the administration sees diplomatic openings and the potential for real progress, it may press forward. If it concludes Israeli and Palestinian leaders aren't ready for serious negotiations, it'll do what it's been doing for months now: promise new peacemaking efforts sometime in the nebulous future.

The news that Hamas slammed the killing of the “holy warrior” Bin Laden only days after the announcement of a Fatah-Hamas unity agreement can't be seen as an encouraging sign by administration policymakers as they make those calculations.

Short answer: it's too early to tell how Bin Laden's removal from the world stage will affect U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians that is the product of a big tangle of factors.

Politically, Bin Laden's eliminiation is obviously a huge boost for a president whose foreign policy achievements have been scanty.

That said, the belief was always that next year's election will be all about domestic issues – starting with the faltering economy and the issue of federal spending and entitlements. Bin Laden's death cannot help but boost Obama's standing, but it probably won't change the core dynamics of the election.

The first Jewish group out of the gate with a statement on the dramatic news was the American Jewish Committe. David Harris, the group's executive director, said "this is an extraordinary moment for all concerned about the fight against international terrorism. It sends an unmistakably powerful message of American resolve to go after those who would wreak human havoc in the name of their perverted hatred, packaged as fanatical faith."

But he also asked: how was it possible that bin Laden could apparently live hidden in plain sight in the heart of Pakistan -- and not in a cave but a mansion?"

Good question.

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