More on Tuesday's election, the expected GOP wins and Obama Middle East policy
11/01/2010 - 17:22
James Besser

Since last week's story on the issue I've had a lot more conversations about the impact of tomorrow's election and likely GOP gains on the Obama administration's Middle East agenda. But talk doesn't necessarily lead to illumination.

Jewish hawks and doves are pretty much divided in parallel ways.

Some on both sides believe – the doves with hope, the hawks with fear – that since Obama will have an even harder time moving his domestic agenda with a more Republican Congress, he will, like so many predecessors, turn to foreign policy with a vengeance, and look to make his legacy with some dramatic breakthrough.

Like Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But just as many on both sides predict exactly the opposite.

Chastened by voters, worried about his own prospects in 2012 and facing new congressional resistance President Obama will steer clear of new and politically explosive Middle East initiatives.

The problem with all these analyses – and with my story last week – is that we don't really know the key variable here: what do the central players in this drama really want?

Does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's played a foxy game in presenting himself as the one Middle East leader who is serious about talks, really want negotiations to advance, or is he just maneuvering to take advantage of Palestinian intransigence on the issue of a settlement freeze?

Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have any intention of seriously approaching direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, or is he still holding out for U.S. intervention, and using the settlement issue as an excuse?

And what's the perception in the inner sanctums of the Obama administration?

I'm prepared to believe the administration will push hard for a peace agreement after the elections – but only if it is convinced both sides as willing and able to make the necessary compromises. And at this stage, it's hard for me to believe they think that's true.

What matters now isn't the election and the near-certainty of a far more Republican Congress, but the administration's perception of whether enough has changed to justify a major U.S. push.

If so, they'll be willing to buck the GOP congressional leadership – which can make a lot of noise but can't really change policy. If not, they'll continue going through the motions and probing for openings but refrain from any real push that's unlikely to produce lasting results, but will almost certainly cause more political problems for a beleaguered president.

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