On Sunday I attended a house party for the Madison chapter of J Street. There were about ten of us there to listen to the Midwest coordinator from Chicago explain J Street's strategy for the "two-state summer" to pressure the Obama administration to reengage in Middle East diplomacy on the Palestinian track. I spoke to him for about a half hour before the meeting and although we agreed on many things, we had a fundamental disagreement about American policy. I hold that the situation is fundamentally unripe for another attempt to renew Israeli-Palestinian direct talks. The Israeli government is opposed to a further settlement freeze or any substantial concessions to the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas is opposed to making any substantial concessions to the Israelis and has already committed himself to the UN route of seeking UN sanction and recognition for a declaration of Palestinian independence. Until he plays this hand out he is very unlikely to try to engage in another game with different rules in which he has always been dealt a losing hand.
Several of us at the meeting spoke of the possibility of J Street attempting to persuade the Obama administration to shape the Palestinian initiative by making UN recognition and pressure on Israel to end the occupation conditional on Palestine fulfilling certain conditions such as giving up the right of return. But apparently J Street believes that that is too dangerous a course. In other words Obama is politically healthy enough to be pressured into engaging in another high-profile round of the peace process, as in 2010, but not healthy enough to take on the UN and a unified Palestinian government. I fail to understand the logic here.
Either engaging in a peace process will cost Obama valuable political capital when he is gearing up for a reelection campaign or it won't. If it will it should be avoided. If it will not then he should spend that capital in a process that has not yet failed and has a slim chance of succeeding.
Aaron David Miller wrote a very interesting article on how the Arab Spring has affected American Middle East calculations. Here is the link.