Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Next for Obama with Israel?

As I write this, I imagine that due to the time difference the official activities of the second day of Obama's first official visit to Israel are over. The first day certainly seemed to go well. Obama got across the idea that he accepts that Israel has long roots in the area and that Israeli Jews are returned natives and not simply European settlers and their co-religionists from the region as most Arabs, Muslims, and those on the European and International Left seem to believe. For the record I believe that they are both--natives who through the circumstance of history were forced to return as settlers. Netanyahu has made nice and Israelis seem to be impressed.

So what happens now? The speeches and visit could be used for two different purposes. First, to smooth over relations with Jerusalem so as to better coordinate a response to Iranian nuclear activities and to the spillover from the Syrian civil war and other contingencies that may arise. Second, it could be used to down the road support a push for a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process as J Street, most non-Orthodox American Jews, and the Israeli Left (Meretz, Hadash, part of Labor) wants. But then Obama will face the same obstacles that he faced in his first term--even worse. The Palestinians are still divided between Fatah and Hamas. The Likud still has a veto over the other parties in the coalition, but this time a powerful Jewish Home party is in the coalition along with a Yesh Atid that is largely agnostic on the peace issue and the Likud is farther to the Right than it was in Netanyahu's second government.

Domestically things are slowly improving for Obama: the economy is in recovery but unemployment rates are still hovering around eight percent, the Republicans are still intransigent, and Obama still has other issues on his domestic agenda including gun control laws to get to. In foreign policy it is a wash: official combat involvement in Iraq is over, American involvement in Afghanistan is winding down, Al Qaeda is largely dead as a centralized group but like a hydra has spawned new regional heads throughout the Muslim world, Europe is still on the brink of economic collapse, and Syria is in the midst of a very bloody civil war with no end in sight. North Korea has begun to throw one of its periodic tantrums and threaten all of its neighbors. And Tehran is still resisting efforts to stop its enriching of uranium to high levels.

So what is Obama thinking? Like any skilled politician--which he definitely is--he is keeping his options open. He will see how things go with Iran and then take it from there. It all depends on how badly he thinks that he must actually earn that Nobel Peace Prize that the Oslo Committee prematurely awarded him four years ago.

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