Obama and Abu Bluff haven't spoken in seven monthsThe New York Times reports that President Obama and 'moderate' 'Palestinian' President
Among the very first foreign leaders President Obama called after entering the Oval Office on Jan. 21, 2009, was the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The last time the two men spoke was in February, when Mr. Obama failed, in an awkward, 55-minute phone conversation, to persuade Mr. Abbas not to go to the United Nations to condemn Israel for building Jewish settlements.Note what the Times doesn't say here. There is animosity between Obama and Netanyahu (at least on Obama's part). Clinton used his charm to get Arafat to sign on at Wye, which happened because Clinton lied to and cheated Netanyahu in the process. And Obama has cultivated Erdogan, which has just done wonders for Turkey's temper tantrums over the last several months. You're all welcome to add to that list.
The 25 months between those calls demonstrate how Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Abbas has withered — and along with it, Mr. Obama’s hopes to make Middle East peacemaking one of his signature achievements.
American and Palestinian officials insist that there is no animosity between Mr. Obama and Mr. Abbas, unlike the often tense relationship between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But Mr. Abbas has lost faith in Mr. Obama, Palestinian officials said, and after four face-to-face meetings and many regular telephone calls, there is now little contact between them.
This is a sharp contrast to former President Bill Clinton, who met frequently with the last Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, even if that relationship ultimately soured, too — or even to former President George W. Bush, who built a decent working relationship with Mr. Abbas during his effort to achieve a peace agreement.
Personal diplomacy has its limits in the Middle East, given the deep historic and political hurdles to an agreement. But it can help at times, former diplomats said, noting that Mr. Clinton used his charm with Mr. Arafat to get him to sign a deal with Mr. Netanyahu at the Wye River talks in 1998. Mr. Obama has also cultivated other leaders in the region, notably Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
The lack of high-level contact will be telling in the coming weeks. While the White House has worked behind the scenes to head off the Palestinian campaign, Mr. Obama himself has stayed conspicuously offstage, leaving the effort to State Department diplomats and to Tony Blair, the special envoy to the diplomatic group known as the Quartet, which comprises the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.And I thought that was 'leading from behind.' You mean it isn't? Silly me....
But don't worry. Abu Bluff is still rooting for Obama to be reelected.
The Americans have their own frustrations. Some officials doubt that Mr. Abbas is willing to take risks to pursue an agreement. His regular threats to step down as the Palestinian Authority’s leader make some question why Mr. Obama should make an investment in him. And with no hope of progress, they ask what would be gained by putting the president in touch with him.What could go wrong?
“You pick your moments based on where you think the diplomacy is,” a senior official said. “The president’s currency is so valuable in diplomacy that if you don’t husband it, then you don’t have it when you need it.”
One thing both the Americans and the Palestinians agree on is that this is not one of those moments. Mr. Abbas has written off the prospect of a new American initiative for the rest of Mr. Obama’s term, Mr. Shaath said.
Still, noting that Mr. Abbas “keeps high esteem for the man,” Mr. Shaath said he “retains the hope that President Obama will be re-elected.”
“Maybe in his second term, he will deliver what he couldn’t in his first term.”