Friday, July 31, 2009

Obama Continues To Falter In The Middle East As Talks Have Yet To Restart (Updated)

On Thursday, The Washington Post described Obama's foreign policy in a nutshell:

The new administration has pushed a reset button with Russia and sent new ambassadors to Syria and Venezuela; it has offered olive branches to Cuba and Burma. But for nearly three months it has been locked in a public confrontation with Israel over Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank. To a less visible extent, the two governments also have differed over policy toward Iran.

I suppose that Iran was left out because of the lack of any formal diplomatic moves by Obama towards that country. But the Washington Post is remaining consistent in opposition to Obama's pressure on Israel regarding settlements--as Jackson Diehl expressed it in his June 29 column.

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu's initial concessions -- he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations -- Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement "freeze." Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the "confidence-building" concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration's final year, have yet to resume.[emphasis added]
The Washington Post has a point there--for all of his talk about hitting the ground running on the issue of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, instead of jump-starting talks, Obama has merely antagonized Israel and allowed the Palestinian Arabs to think that all they need to do is sit back and let Obama do all of the work for them. Obama has not hit the ground running; he has hit a brick wall--one entirely of his own making.

Apparently, Obama's Cairo speech did not have the grand effect that he and his people have claimed, and if he now finds himself compromising with Israel on the issue of the settlements--matters will only get worse.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world -- a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed. If he is to be effective in brokering a peace deal, Mr. Obama will need to show both sides that they can trust him -- and he must be tough on more than one country.

Obama has tackled a number of highly visible issues since taking office--which is to his credit. What is not to his credit is that he has yet to score a decisive win on any of those issues. Instead, he finds his once vaunted popularity continuing to drop.

Apparently both Americans and the media are beginning to realize that something is wrong with Obama's policies, both domestically and internationally.

UPDATE: Apparently, Obama has no real plan for a Israel-Palestinian peace, other than--talking:

Recent talks with US envoy George Mitchell have left Israeli officials with the impression that - contrary to expectations in some circles - President Barack Obama is not going to unfurl his own regional peace plan.

Rather, according to these officials, the administration is aiming to create a positive dynamic that will lead to the relaunching of a Palestinian-Israeli diplomatic process, but this time with more regional players on board.

...But, according to the officials, the sense in Jerusalem now is that
Washington realizes that it is not constructive to just place a plan on the
table, without putting all the different pieces together to enable it to be
accepted.

Obama seems to now be following the advice offered back in February to follow a minimalist approach and not rush into a final agreement. One of those who made that recommendation was Obama's former adviser Robert Malley:

"The basic agreement, I think, is that none of us is going to recommend, and, in fact, all us will recommend against, rushing towards a grand, comprehensive, end-of-conflict deal between Israelis and Palestinians," he said. "I think you will hear that we don't think that the time is ripe at this point for an end-of-conflict, comprehensive agreement between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people."

Malley said that all of the parameters that guided the Clinton administration's peace efforts in the 1990s have shifted. He said there are no longer two coherent entities that could sign a peace treaty, if one were forged. He noted Israel's election next Tuesday, with polls showing hardliner and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the frontrunner. But Malley also cited the fact that there is no longer a national Palestinian movement with which to negotiate.

If so, then all Obama has to do is explain this to the Palestinian Arabs and all those who expected Obama to take a forceful position on Israel.

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