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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

This one requires a little bit of mood setting, so let's go to the videotape.

Ben Smith reports that the Odd Couple of - no not Felix and Oscar - Barack and Bibi - is breaking up.
The notion that the two men could prove a productive diplomatic odd couple has been tossed aside because, in the American view, the worst expectations about Netanyahu’s intransigence have been confirmed. The new view: Netanyahu chose the constraints of a coalition that he steered further right this month, and the U.S. won’t be offering him help, or sympathy, with his domestic politics going forward.

Meanwhile, this distinctly non-rose colored view of Netanyahu has taken hold in the White House just as there is growing doubt about whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can ever be a consistent, strong American ally. The twin conclusions have brought a distinct frost to administration relations with both men — a chill that for now seems likely to freeze the chances for any new U.S. peace initiative in the region.

“Every leader faces difficult politics — the question for both sides is whether they’re willing to make tough choices that are in their interests despite the politics,” said a White House official of both Netanyahu and Abbas, the latter of whom has drawn White House ire for what officials described as inconsistent demands.

This latest moment of gloom comes as the White House has lost interest in the Middle East for another reason. Obama’s two departing senior aides, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, were personally deeply involved in the Middle East talks, viewing them as historic and politically promising opportunities. They’re being replaced with staffers with little demonstrated interest and few ties to Israel, Bill Daley and David Plouffe.

“There’s definitely been a change since Rahm and Axelrod left,” said Zvika Krieger, a senior vice president of The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington.


But the Thanksgiving collapse of talks launched just weeks earlier with great fanfare — prompted by Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate on points other than security, and the Palestinians’ refusal to enter the American-led talks without prior concessions — has sent the U.S. into a period of re-evaluation, and of frustration with the two leaders in particular.

“It was a total failure of imagination on both their parts,” said a former U.S. official who has been involved in the recent peace talks. “The problem is when you have leaders who lack the imagination to understand how their political environments would change with a deal.”

The U.S. has no obvious path to punish, much less replace, either leader, through a sharp statement . Netanyahu secured his political standing this month by shedding the leftmost elements of his coalition and bringing former Labor leader Ehud Barak into the government in a new party. Abbas’s role as Fayyad’s protector and as a counterbalance to Hamas, meanwhile, makes him better than possible alternatives.

But observers have noted the change.

“There is a sense of frustration, which is genuine — both in terms of the inability to choreograph a positive result and the continuing nature of delay and excuse that is too often exhibited by both sides to this conflict,” said former Rep. Robert Wexler, who now heads the Abraham Center.

“There’s no question that this represents a recognition that they really are up against certain limitations,” said veteran Mideast negotiator Aaron David Miller, now a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, saying it showed the realization that Obama’s rhetoric and efforts “simply cannot substitute for the absence of ownership in these negotiations on the part of the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

Observers debate the consequences of the new chill, and pro-Palestinian activists in particular worry that they will be its victims.
Read the whole thing.

Ed Morrissey adds:
If Obama really has “lost interest” in solving that standoff, then give him credit for being a faster study than most of his predecessors. It only took Obama two years to realize that it’s not solvable in the current political paradigm, which is to say that the Palestinians won’t settle for just the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis won’t settle for annihilation. Palestinians want the entire territory and have spent the last sixty years convincing themselves that they’re both entitled to it and can recapture it. Palestinians aren’t interested in peaceful coexistence, and Israelis aren’t interested in the Helen Thomas plan.

Heck, it took both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton two full terms to figure it out. Kudos to Obama if he decides to stop wasting time and effort on the issue.

However, that doesn’t mean that Obama should cut Netanyahu loose over his rightward leanings. Israel remains a critical ally, if for no other reason to Obama than as a key component for containment of Iran. The alliance between the US and Israel is too critical for it to decline because of personal pique on the part of any President. He doesn’t have to like Netanyahu, but Obama had better figure out how to work with Netanyahu, because the time is rapidly approaching where the US and Israel will need Bibi.
Ed's right, but I can see Obama letting his personal pique over the 'peace process' get in the way of that relationship. Yet another reason to work to make Obama a one-term President.

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At 10:28 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Obama had better settle in for a long wait. Netanyahu looks likely to be re-elected with more or less the same coalition partners intact. That is the only address the Palestinians have in town. The difference between today and 1999 is Clinton was popular in Israel and Netanyahu was deeply disliked and most people were prepared to give Ehud Barak a chance to produce peace. Obama has low approval ratings among Israeli Jews and there is no Barak around the corner for the Americans to promote as a Netanyahu replacement.

Deal with it and move on.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Obama throws Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the bus? He seems like a guy who thinks that history is made by people in expensive suits sitting around tables and hashing out "process"--he is by all accounts oblivious that these elites are the end product of a chain of subtle and interwoven and volatile facts on the ground with conflicting and crosscutting cultures, claims, and power. He's cynically pragmatic enough to play the election game but actual leadership eludes his elitist naivete.


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