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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Has Obama changed his course on the Middle East?

Robert Satloff argues that last week's 'summit' among Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama and Abu Mazen represented a 'change of course' for Obama on the Middle East.
In New York last week, Obama finally changed course. To the consternation of Abbas, who had been happy to watch the Americans negotiate on his behalf for the past few months, the president announced that restarting peace talks would no longer be contingent on reaching agreement with Israel on a settlement freeze. America wanted the parties to begin negotiations, without preconditions, as soon as possible, he said. And in a move replete with irony, he specifically asked Hillary Clinton--who had articulated the Administration’s most hardline stance on settlements in June--to report back to him in mid-October on progress toward resuming peace talks. Speaking in the Waldorf-Astoria, the President’s words applied as much to him as to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders sitting nearby: "It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals."

This nod to realism is a positive sign. Obama was not the first president to come into office with a policy rooted more in ideological attachment than dispassionate analysis, but, on this topic at least, he shifted gears more quickly than most. Indeed, another line from his Waldorf remarks suggests that he may now be on the right track in terms of the peace process. "I'm committed to pressing ahead in the weeks and months and years to come," he said. Yes, Mr. President, even with the best of intentions, forging peace in the Holy Land is indeed the work of years.
Well, maybe. But there's still a deep distrust for Obama here, both because of the way he pushed a 'settlement freeze' and because of his timidity in confronting Iran.

Whether there has really been a change remains to be seen. What will Obama do when Abu Mazen refuses to come to the table (as he has) without a 'settlement freeze'? That may be the real test of whether Obama's strategy has changed.


At 7:26 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Obama does not seem to impress America's enemies. Why Israel mindlessly seeks to strengthen him is this year's mystery question.

Obama may have had to pull back on Israel because he is politically weak and not because his underlying beliefs about the Middle East have changed. There is no reason to believe if he somehow has a political resurrection, he is going to be kinder and gentler towards the Jewish State.



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