Major US initiative in the works? Don't bet on it.
04/26/2011 - 21:32
James Besser

Over the holiday I had several interesting calls and emails about the prospects for a major new U.S. Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.

A friend who's left of center emailed to say that the Obama administration, seeing no alternative, is about to launch a major new peace push that will include U.S. bridging proposals, a paper outlining elements of previous negotiations and a significant amount of pressure on both sides.

That's really good news for Israel, this activist trilled.

A day later, I had a call from a friend who leans rightward. What he told me: the Obama administration, seeing no alternative, is about to launch a major new peace push that will include U.S. bridging proposals, a paper outlining elements of previous negotiations and a significant amount of pressure on both sides.

That's really bad news for Israel, this activist warned.

If both sides agree that something big is coming down the pike, there must be something to it, right?

Not necessarily.

Yes, the administration is worried about the growing number of European states who are considering supporting the Palestinian bid for recognition of statehood by the UN General Assembly in September, and the likelihood the effort, while not actually creating a real state, will leave both Israel and the United States increasingly isolated.

Yes, they're worried that the longer the current stalemate goes on, the greater the likelihood of a major renewal of violence.

Yes, they think the elements of a deal are well known, and there are some in the administration who believe both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas want it, but are politically weak, so just need a big push.

But sorry, I just don't buy that it's going to happen.

Badly burned by its first foray in Israeli-Palestinian mediation, the administration has no reason to believe conditions are any more favorable for a deal today than they were two years ago, and in some ways they're worse.

Netanyahu and Abbas may want an eventual peace agreement, but they don't want it bad enough to take real political risks to get it.

Abbas seems determined to pursue his UN end run and avoid pesky negotiations entirely, and with more and more nations supporting him, it's hard to see how he can be coaxed back to the table.

Netanyahu, at best, faces an incredibly dicey political situation at home; even if he was eager for a deal, he's probably not eager for retirement.

Moreover, the administration is beset with major foreign policy crises that require all its attention and diplomatic resources. Afghanistan is still a mess, we're getting sucked deeper and deeper into Libya and Iran remains belligerent and unresponsive to international pressure. The Arab world is convulsed with anti-authoritarian protests and violent government repression; that upheaval represents the biggest wild card in the region in decades, and nobody has really figured out what it means for U.S. interests.

At home, the economic recovery is hanging by a threat, Congress and the White House stand at the brink of a debt limit abyss and Americans are having a bad schizophrenic episode as they demand government spending be cut to the bone, but not spending for their programs.

And did I mention President Obama faces a difficult reelection battle next year?

Traditionally, presidents turn to grandiose foreign policy schemes when facing political tsuris at home, and one could make a case that this might be part of President Obama's thinking going into the 2012 election year.

But with the Middle East stars strongly aligned against any real likelihood of progress and with so much potential for disaster, I just don't see it. If President Obama concludes there's a good chance of success, maybe he'll take the plunge. But it's hard for me to see how any rational analysis could bring him to that conclusion.

On the other hand, he somehow concluded it would be relatively easy to depose Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi with a few NATO bombs and cruise missiles, so maybe logic is in short supply at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. these days.
 

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