Political tidbits: Obama’s plans in the Middle East, missing ballots in Minnesota

  • "Breaking with the Bush administration, the incoming foreign policy team of President-elect Barack Obama is expected to embrace Israeli–Syrian peace talks and might actively take part in negotiations that until now the Americans have shunned," reports Nathan Guttman in the Forward. "This assessment is shared by Middle East experts trying to gauge the foreign policy priorities of the incoming administration based on statements from the transition team. The negotiations on an accord between Israel and Syria would run parallel to efforts to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians."
  • Guttman also reports in the Forward that the "selection of retired Marine General James Jones as President-elect Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser has reopened discussions over deployment of international forces to the Palestinian territories, an idea fathered by Jones last year. Jones, a former commander of NATO forces, raised the suggestion in talks with Israelis and Palestinians last year, but did not push for its implementation. One reason might have been strong Israeli opposition to entrusting international military forces with the country’s security."
  • A missing envelope containing about 130 ballots is the latest issue in the Franken-Coleman U.S. Senate recount in Minnesota, reports CNN: "The state canvassing board appeared likely to postpone its unofficial Friday deadline to finish the recount because of the missing ballots from the city of Minneapolis." The two campaigns, though, don’t even agree on whether ballots are missing: "Coleman spokesman Fritz Knaak said it was ‘premature and simply irresponsible to suggest’ that there were missing ballots. He accused Democratic Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and election officials of failing to notify Coleman’s campaign of a news conference on the issue."
  • Soon-to-be Commentary executive editor Jonathan Tobin, writing in the Forward, says many on the "Jewish left" appear to want Barack Obama to puruse "policies that will lead to a confrontation with many of Israel’s supporters." But, he says, "a return to the fevered quest to end once and for all the Israeli-Palestinian struggle that characterized the final days of the Clinton administration is not only a poor use of Obama’s time and effort. It also fails to take into account the reasons why the last Democratic president failed. … But Jewish doves often seem less interested in the facts on the ground in the West Bank than they are in those in Washington, D.C. Their long-shot goal is to topple the centrist and bipartisan Aipac as the pro-Israel community’s voice and replace it with voices from the left."
  • "Democrats and Republicans in the local Jewish community are largely united in their view that Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will do a good job in her new role as Secretary of Homeland Security in the incoming presidential administration, reports the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.
  • Shmuel Rosner at Commentary says Obama’s decision on U.S. attendance at the second Durban conference next year is seen as a "test" by Israeli officials: "The extent to which the Obama administration will be willing to compromise in order to participate in this dispensable event can serve as an indication from which to learn more about the new team in power. We know very little about the way this man is going to rule, one Israeli official has told me. Durban will give us some early sense of his real priorities.
  • The Zionist Organization of America is urging President-elect Obama not to appoint Dan Kurtzer as his Middle East envoy, which a Haaretz report earlier this week said was under consideration: "The ZOA opposes and appointment for Kurtzer because of his long, documented record of hostility to and severe pressure upon Israel during the course of his career, which has included stints as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-5)," citing statments by the Conference of Presidents and Benjamin Netanyahu, among others.
  • There’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of days about MSNBC’s Chris Matthews running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, but Politico notes that another rumored candidate, Jewish Democrat Allyson Schwartz already has more than $2 million in her campaign account. And in Florida, Jewish Democrat Ron Klein has $1.7 million on hand for a possible race for the Senate seat Mel Martinez is vacating in 2010.
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