Can Obama solve the Mideast problem — on top of everything else?


A pair of Washington Post Op-Eds take stock of the Obama administration’s push for Mideast peace in the context of everything else keeping the administration busy in Washington. Can President Obama do it all at once?

The real foreign policy tests will start as soon as Obama begins to make some hard, and politically controversial, decisions on the Palestinian issue and Afghanistan. These would be tough problems even if the president were still coasting on the high poll ratings of several months ago, but now, with his popularity down and Congress in a partisan frenzy, they will require a different level of leadership.

The Arab-Israeli breakthrough that Obama has been seeking since his first day in office will near the make-or-break point this week as his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. If they can agree on terms for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction, that would open the way for talks on creating a Palestinian state.

  • Jackson Diehl says Obama may want Mideast peace more than the parties themselves:

As so often happens in Middle East negotiations, what were intended as simple first steps have become an end in themselves, subject to months of posturing, hair-splitting and horse-trading. Both sides seem fairly confident that Mitchell and Netanyahu will reach a deal on the settlement issue; they are due to meet again this week. But it will be a messy compromise that will be time-limited and probably fall short of the complete halt in building that the administration has repeatedly sought. Similarly, Obama probably will get only two of the three actions he requested from Saudi King Abdullah when he traveled to Riyadh in June. The Saudis will privately support small concessions to Israel by four or five other Gulf states, and they have provided long-overdue financial support to the Palestinian Authority. But they are unlikely to make a public gesture of their own.

The administration believes that the sum of the measures Obama is to announce will be impressive enough to sway Israeli and Arab public opinion and energize the subsequent talks. But several Israeli and Arab officials I spoke to last week depicted the effort as a waste of the new administration’s time and political capital. Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, said: "There’s been a long learning process over the last six months of what can and cannot be achieved."

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