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Monday, August 23, 2010

'Direct talks' are all about Obama

Why now, all of a sudden, has the Obama administration succeeded in putting together 'direct talks' between Israel and the 'Palestinians'? Obviously because they pushed hard enough on the side that was refusing to come to the table. And why did the administration do that specifically now? The answer should be obvious. There's an election coming.
Obama badly needs a foreign policy achievement, and – at least until the talks stall, which the US is unlikely to allow until after the November elections – he can point to getting the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table as one such achievement. Granted, it’s not peace in Northern Ireland, but it’s something, and this president needs something, right now.

That Obama selected Clinton to make the announcement also indicated that his expectations are not over the moon, and that he wants to retain his own little exit ramp.


Obama will host the principals, plus Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II, for a ceremonial dinner on September 1, but Clinton will do the grunt work by launching the actual talks on September 2.

This is a good way for Obama to watch and see where the process is headed, before deciding whether to take credit – it if succeeds – or distance himself from it and leave the responsibility to the State Department if it fails.

There may also be a tactical reason in not getting the president involved intimately in the talks themselves from the very beginning, the way Bill Clinton did during the Oslo years. In this way the US administration will keep the heaviest artillery, the president, for the end, when some serious “squeezing” of the sides needs to be done, rather than “wasting” him at the outset.

Another reason for what the Palestinians say has been unprecedented US pressure on them to enter the talks has to do with Obama’s continued hemorrhaging of Jewish support.

Despite Obama’s recent charm offensive that included meetings with Jewish congressmen and senators, his warm welcome of Netanyahu last month at the White House, and an empathetic interview he gave to Channel 2, he continues to lose Jewish support.

A Pew Research Center poll last week found that while 72 percent of American Jews considered themselves Democrats or leaning toward the Democrats in 2008 – and indeed, Obama captured some 78% of the Jewish vote in that year’s presidential elections – now only 60% characterize themselves as Democrats; as opposed to 33% of American Jews saying they are either Republicans or lean Republican.

In a year in which there are key congressional and senatorial races in states with large Jewish populations, such as Florida and Pennsylvania, this trend could be extremely significant. It is not unlikely that somewhere lurking in the back of the minds of those in the administration dealing with the peace process was the thought that a renewed peace process right now would play very well among American Jews in places like Boca Raton and Philadelphia.
And after the elections? That's now the danger. If Obama doesn't believe he has a chance of being re-elected in 2012, we could have a lame duck in the White House for two years. And while he is unlikely to control either house of Congress in that case, foreign policy is largely the President's exclusive bailiwick.


At 9:05 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Obama has every incentive to veer to the Left in foreign policy if he can no longer push his domestic agenda through Congress. That's the danger for Israel in 2011. Israel has perhaps a grace period of six months from September onwards until next spring to produce results to Obama's satisfaction.

With direct talks destined for inevitable failure, what the Administration will do next is any one's guess but its one Israel is not likely to find itself happy with.

What could go wrong indeed


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