With the Palestinians stiffing Secretary of State John Kerry’s calls for them to rejoin talks with Israel without—as President Obama has asked them to do—preconditions, there really isn’t much to talk about what we call, for lack of a better term, the Middle East peace process. So instead the media is focusing on what is a purely theoretical argument between members of Israel’s government and claiming that this dispute, rather than the failure of the Palestinians to take advantage of President Obama’s advocacy for a two-state solution, is responsible for the impasse.
That’s the upshot of the furor over recent statements by Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads one of the parties that make up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud, to the extent that the two-state solution is already dead and buried. According to Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times, this illustrates the deep division within Israeli society about both the desirability and the viability of the idea that peace will be achieved by creating a Palestinian state living alongside Israel. But the tempest over Bennett and Danon, both of whom would like Israel to begin to act as if there will never be a resolution of the conflict, isn’t really a new version of a decades-old internal debate about how peace can be achieved. That strategic argument was pretty much resolved in the last 20 years as even most of the political right that had long believed that Israel could settle all of the land west of the Jordan River as well as having peace came to understand that wasn’t going to happen.
Instead, what Israel is currently experiencing is a debate about tactics. Namely, should the country go on pretending as if peace with the Palestinians is possible to please Washington or call things by their rightful names and simply do what they want in terms of annexing part of the West Bank (Bennett’s solution) or simply stop talking about two states as Danon seems to want to do. The former position is more practical in terms of bolstering Israel’s diplomatic position, but the fact that Bennett and Danon are saying that there will be no two-state solution does not make it any less likely to happen if the Palestinians are willing to accept it. Those who claim these statements are actually damaging the prospects of peace don’t understand the facts of life in the Middle East or the realities of Israeli politics.
There is only one reason why Bennett and Danon are able to claim that the two-state solution is dead. It’s because they’re right.
Last month, I dismissed John Kerry’s shawarma diplomacy as “purposeless,” not least because the Palestinians have shown no indication they are ready to sit down to high-level peace talks, and thus the secretary of state’s presence is a card too high to have played at this juncture. Kerry wanted to inject some immediacy into the peace process by kickstarting negotiations, but took a gamble by opening himself up to failure so early in his tenure.
The reason for Kerry’s trip seemed to be to deliver a message in person to the Palestinians: President Obama erred in demanding a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations, and he is not only lifting that demand but would like to impress upon Mahmoud Abbas the necessity of Abbas lifting that demand as well. The Palestinian reaction to Kerry’s request shows just how creative Abbas can be in avoiding peace negotiations. One of Abbas’s negotiators leaked to the Times of Israel an unofficial response, which managed to both comply with Kerry’s request and avoid negotiations:
The narrative of the Middle East peace process according to the international media has pretty much been set in stone for the last 17 years since the first time Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister of Israel: the “hard line” leader’s intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Ever since then, we have been endlessly told that his ideology has prevented the Jewish state from making efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians. The fact that Netanyahu signed peace deals during his first term and has called for a two-state solution that would allow for an independent state for Palestinians, and even froze building in the West Bank to entice Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, hasn’t altered this. Nor will the prime minister’s latest attempt to bend over backwards to accommodate the Obama administration.
According to Haaretz, “senior Israeli officials” are confirming that Netanyahu “promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ‘to rein in’ construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until mid-June.” In doing so, Netanyahu will be depriving the Palestinian Authority of its standard excuse for not returning to peace talks four and a half years after fleeing them in the wake of Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state that included parts of Jerusalem as well as almost all of the West Bank. But don’t expect anyone in the liberal Western media that treats Netanyahu like a piñata to give him credit for playing ball with Kerry’s hubristic effort to achieve a deal that has eluded all of his predecessors. Even worse, this very far-reaching concession is unlikely to coax the leaders of Fatah, let alone the Hamas terrorists who rule the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza, to negotiate.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.
This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:
Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.
[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”
But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.
The cycle of Western involvement in the peace process usually involves Benjamin Netanyahu proposing an idea, the West rejecting it, trying and failing its own way, and then quietly proposing Netanyahu’s idea while pretending they came up with it. It was certainly that way with the concept of a peace deal built around a land-swap–which Netanyahu proposed in his first premiership during the Clinton administration only to have Clinton ignore him. The land-swap idea eventually became central to final-status negotiations.
The Obama administration may be about to repeat the pattern with regard to Netanyahu’s commonsense–and therefore much maligned–“economic peace.” The concept centers on the fact that since the two sides have not been able to make much progress on the traditional negotiating track, steps could be taken to go around official channels and improve the daily lives of Palestinians. Netanyahu hadn’t received any help from the Obama administration or the government of Mahmoud Abbas to take such action, so he reached out to the Jordanians and worked to encourage foreign investment in the West Bank on his own. It wasn’t just a theory, either; as Daniel Doron wrote in 2011, the concept of “economic peace” is the only strategy with a proven track record of success:
In the aftermath of President Obama’s ringing affirmation of Zionism and Jewish rights during his visit to Israel last month, many of his liberal Jewish supporters are justifiably feeling vindicated. But after years of backing Obama and sniping at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, some of them are having a little trouble fully understanding the administration’s moves. While the president also called on Israeli students to pressure their government to make peace, he also reversed course on one of the key elements of his Middle East policy during his first term. When speaking with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, Obama pointedly said that settlements were not the obstacle to peace and that no preconditions should be expected of the Israelis in order to entice the PA back to the negotiating table.
These comments, which received far less play than the president’s Jerusalem speech about peace, represented a significant policy shift. After four years of demanding Israel freeze settlements as well as make other concessions prior to talks, Obama put himself on the same page as Netanyahu when it came to the question of Israel being asked to ante up and virtually guarantee that it would abandon its bargaining chips prior to negotiations. Yet somehow many of the president’s backers haven’t quite assimilated this message.
That was made clear in a letter to Netanyahu organized by the Israel Policy Forum that rounded up many of the usual liberal suspects who have periodically urged Obama to save Israel from itself. While respectful and, for a change, not containing any specific criticisms of Netanyahu’s government and even throwing him a bouquet for his phone call with Turkey’s leader (which they foolishly accept as a “rapprochement” even after the Turks have already reneged on their promises to normalize relations), the group of 100 prominent American Jews did call on Jerusalem to make “concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution.” In other words, in spite of the signals from Obama that the ball is in the Palestinians’ court as far as resuming talks, the IPF’s signees are still reflexively attempting to put the onus on Netanyahu.
Whether or not it was wise, we can debate. But it’s hard not to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey as the diplomatic equivalent of a battered spouse apologizing to the batterer.
Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, tried to ameliorate the bitter taste left by the apology. “As we always said: only true friends apologize to each other,” he tweeted. So, is Turkey a true friend, then? After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month called Zionism “a crime against humanity.” Apologists suggested that Erdoğan’s slander was based on the Turkish understanding of Zionism, and should be seen in that context. Mustafa Akyol, for example, wrote, “Erdoğan is a very Turkish politician. He, in other words, thinks and speaks in very local terms, not international ones. Therefore when he speaks of ‘Zionism,’ what he has in mind is what most Turks have in mind, rather than what Ban Ki-moon, Netanyahu and Kerry have in theirs.” By such logic, of course, any and all incitement is permissible. Ahmadinejad, after all, is just a product of his society. That Erdoğan has systematically moved to crush any editor or journalist that did not parrot his world view has only augmented Turkey’s hatred. Nevertheless, if Turkey is a true friend, as Namik Tan suggests, then perhaps it is time for Erdoğan to apologize for his remarks.
Much of the commentary about President Obama’s brokering of a supposed reconciliation between Israel and Turkey has broken down into two categories: those extolling the president’s supposed diplomatic magic and those who have castigated Prime Minister Netanyahu for going along with the charade. I tried to pour some cold water on the former on Sunday when I wrote that Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s hasty backtracking on the agreement as well as the entire character of his Islamist government rendered the exercise pointless. Michael Rubin, who knows far more about Turkey than almost anybody you can think of who comments about it in the American press, is right to point out how dangerous Erdoğan is and the malevolent nature of his regime.
But I think it’s a mistake to portray Netanyahu’s decision to accede to Obama’s desire for the call as something that will materially harm Israel’s security, as some on the right have asserted. The apology over the Mavi Marmara incident is being portrayed in some quarters as a dangerous dereliction of duty on Netanyahu’s part that potentially opens up Israel’s armed forces to future legal attacks, as well as a sign that the prime minister is acquiescing to banana republic status with respect to the United States. While I share the cynicism about Turkey’s goals and Obama’s naïveté, Netanyahu doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s taking on this issue.
Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dampen optimism regarding the restoration of Turkey-Israel ties following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for the botched interception of the Mavi Marmara. Make no mistake, the apology is a disaster. Not only will it not lead to a revival of Israel-Turkey ties, but it will—in the long run—make them worse. Netanyahu has affirmed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy. Wishful thinking—be it Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza or Ehud Barak’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon—does not bring peace so long as enemies believe that terrorism or, in Erdoğan’s case, its facilitation and his support, has paid dividends.
Erdoğan is a deeply ideological man who, at his core, does not believe Israel should exist. It is a mistake for Turkey-watchers to dismiss Erdoğan’s rants, most recently his description of Zionism as a crime against humanity, as merely posturing for his central Anatolian base. Projection is perhaps the most corrosive mistake in which any analyst can engage. Incitement is not simply a strategy; sometimes, it truly is heartfelt. Just as with Yasir Arafat. And Khaled Meshaal. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Mohammad Khatami. And Kim Jong-un.
A last-minute glitch appears to be holding up the signing of the coalition agreement that would put Israel’s next government in place in time to greet President Obama next week. According to reports, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempt to deny Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett the largely symbolic title of deputy prime minister has jeopardized the deal. While minor issues such as this one have the potential to cause big problems in any political setting, the real clue to the seriousness of this dust-up is the fact that most people seem to be blaming it on, of all people, Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.
If true, it points to the fact that while the Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett have much to gain from cooperating with each other, at least one of them hasn’t been able to rise above the personal feuds that seem to characterize relations between Israel’s leaders. That means that although all of the four parties (Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu, Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua) that have united to form Israel’s 33rd government since the first Knesset was elected in 1949 have every reason to keep it in office for a full four-year term, the jealousies, lack of trust and downright antagonism between the major players may cause its premature demise. Netanyahu’s ability to transcend petty tiffs in the coming days may tell us a lot about whether his second consecutive and third overall term as prime minister will last as long as he’d like.
There was no blue and white smoke emanating from the roof of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem today, but not long before the College of Cardinals sent up their signals in Rome announcing the election of a new pope, reports began to circulate that after nearly two months Israel’s leading political parties had finally concluded their negotiations and a new government has been formed. Reportedly, the government will be formally announced on Saturday night and sworn in on Monday, only two days before President Obama arrives in the country.
The outlines of the agreement that seems to have been concluded were apparent as soon as the votes were counted after the January election for a new Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu Party will join forces with the two other big winners, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi as well as one of the losers, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, to form the new coalition. The fractious talks in which both Netanyahu and Lapid appeared to be bluffing and threatening each other up until the last moment would seem to indicate that this Cabinet will be at each other’s throats and might not last the full four years until the next election. The fierce rivalries and even personal grudges among these four leaders will provide plenty of fodder for Cabinet leaks and feuds. But with only four parties in the government and with little disagreement among them on the most important economic and social issues facing Israel, predictions of doom might be misplaced.
Yet more important than the contentious dynamic that will exist among those inside the tent will be the question of who won’t be there: the ultra-Orthodox parties. Their absence and the opening for reform of the draft system, as well as the potential end of the patronage gravy train for Haredi institutions, will have a bigger impact on the nation than any disagreements among the party leaders.
Ben Birnbaum’s thoughtful, well-reported piece on the Israeli peace process is one of those articles that can easily be interpreted as in accordance with anyone’s preexisting worldview: it’s a Rorschach. If you think Mahmoud Abbas is primarily responsible for the lack of peace, that will be confirmed by the description of Ehud Olmert practically begging him to take an incredibly generous deal and Abbas walking away. If you think Olmert is to blame for offering a peace plan on which he could not follow through simply to save his reputation as he prepared to leave office under a cloud of scandal and an approval rating close to zero, you will shake your head at the desperation he showed.
If you think Olmert and Abbas were peacemakers surrounded by petty schemers, you will not be convinced otherwise as you read of Tzipi Livni’s advisors telling Abbas not to take the deal so she could swoop in and claim the glory for herself, or by the same old mindless and manipulative game being played by “advisors” and “negotiators” on the Palestinian side who have been there forever and a day. (The Israeli names change over time, but the Palestinian names are always Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashrawi.) So that’s the politicians; what about the people? In Israel, the people support peace, Birnbaum reports. The Palestinian people, however–that’s another story. Birnbaum chooses a delicate framing when he references a recent poll that “showed Palestinians preferred Hamas’s approach to ending the Israeli occupation over that of Abbas by a two-to-one margin.” I’m sure everyone can imagine what “Hamas’s approach” would mean, but for the record here’s the actual question from that poll (results, from left to right, are: total, in the West Bank, and in Gaza):
There are conflicting reports about a meeting held yesterday between President Obama and some 25 figures from the American Jewish community, including many of his supporters, in advance of his trip to Israel later this month. The Times of Israel says that one of the participants claimed the president said he would present a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East sometime in the next year. But JTA’s report based on a larger sample of participants dishing about the event contradicts that statement. That was backed up by a denial issued by a senior administration official who told the Times of Israel that there was no “framework” for peace mentioned at the meeting.
The consensus about the meeting is that, as one person who quoted the president to JTA said, there would be no “grandiose” plans for peace presented to the Israelis when he arrives for his long-awaited visit. Though the president will be holding out hope that the current “bleak” prospects for peace will improve, the notion that Obama would risk any of his scarce political capital by trying to impose terms of a peace plan on Israel that the Palestinians are not interested in is absurd. Though Obama will put himself on record as opposing Israeli settlements as well as Palestinian attempts to avoid negotiations via the United Nations, he appears to be only interested in keeping the situation calm. After four years of antagonism with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the president seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as his Israeli counterpart. At least for now, he’s done trying to solve the conflict and only wants to manage it as well as possible.
President Obama’s frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seen by many as a missed opportunity for Obama. Israeli voters tend to punish leaders who can’t get along with the American president, and thus prime ministers are usually willing to work pretty hard to stay on the president’s good side. But Israelis across the ideological spectrum thought Obama’s treatment of Netanyahu was disrespectful, and they blamed the president more than they blamed Netanyahu for the state of affairs.
That gave Netanyahu a certain degree of leverage in his relationship with Obama that Netanyahu didn’t have during his first stint as premier when Bill Clinton was president. But both the recent Israeli and American elections tipped the scales somewhat back in Obama’s direction. Obama was re-elected and now doesn’t have to face the voters again, and Netanyahu won far fewer seats in the January Knesset elections than he had expected, and sits mired in negotiations to form a coalition in which his rivals are setting the agenda. Yet as a new poll from the Hill shows, Obama shouldn’t be enjoying the spectacle too much–he has something to lose as well:
Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new coalition government have not been going smoothly. The prime minister’s attempt to break up the alliance between the two big winners of the last election—the centrist Yesh Atid Party’s Yair Lapid and the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett—have flopped as the two have stuck to each other and their mutual support for a change in the military draft system that will compel for the first time the conscription of Haredim. Netanyahu knows he needs at least one of the two to form a government and if they stick together, he must not only take both but also agree to their demands about a reform that he appears reluctant to implement.
But as difficult as his position was until now, Netanyahu’s leverage in the talks just got even smaller thanks to another longtime antagonist. Israel TV is claiming that the White House has made clear to Netanyahu that President Obama’s long anticipated trip to Israel next month will be postponed if the prime minister does not have a new government in place by March 16. While some in Israel, where Obama remains unpopular, may not care much about the visit, Netanyahu is counting on it. That means the chances are that Lapid and Bennett will soon be signing coalition agreements on their own terms and that the ultra-Orthodox parties will be losing their ability to stymie reform.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maneuvers to put together an expansive governing coalition by handing out ministries and portfolios to a diverse group of political partners, he has a lot of mouths to feed. Not only will there be several party heads looking for placement in the next government, but Netanyahu also has at least one high-profile politician to whom he may owe a commensurate rank in Avigdor Lieberman, and one he probably hoped to have a place for in recently retired Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Yet in Israel, where I spent the last week, there is another name that comes up that commands more respect and curiosity than all the others: Stanley Fischer.
Fischer announced in January that he would be leaving his job as the head of Israel’s central bank earlier than expected. The Israeli press is normally a tough crowd, but Fischer has earned rare and almost universal praise from the Israeli fourth estate for successfully guiding the Israeli economy through the global downturn while many Western and OECD economies continued to struggle. He is often regarded as the adult in the room and was one of the most influential economics professors in U.S. history during his time at MIT. And now, if you listen to the chatter, he can be anything he wants: chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve or even president of Israel (let alone foreign minister, a post he appears to actually covet but which, for political reasons, would ironically be more difficult to attain than the others).
Over the course of the last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a series of decisions that took what seemed like an unassailable political position and turned into a shaky re-election. He choose to make an alliance with the faltering Kadima Party that soon unraveled rather than seek early an election in the fall of 2012 when he was at his strongest. His public grandstanding about President Obama’s stance on Iran and the slights he received from the White House was interpreted as an intervention in the U.S. election on behalf of Mitt Romney that did neither the Republican nor the prime minister any good. Then he merged his Likud Party with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party prior to the January Knesset election that served only to drive secular voters into the arms of upstart Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.
Given the paucity of credible opponents for the office of prime minister and the collapse of Israel’s political left none of this was enough to cost Netanyahu the election but the Likud’s haul of Knesset seats was less than he might have gotten a few months earlier had he avoided these mistakes. But as the PM conducts the negotiations to form a new government, it may be that he is about to commit another blunder. Though one should take any of the reports leaking out of the talks between the Israeli parties with more than a few grains of salt, right now it looks as if Netanyahu is on the verge of outsmarting himself again and setting up the Likud for a potential electoral disaster at the next election.
Liberal critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to seize on the results of the recent Knesset election that the Israeli people had rendered a negative verdict on his stands on the peace process. Left-wing parties that blamed Netanyahu and his government may have fared poorly in the vote and even the Labor Party abandoned a peace platform in the hope of winning back centrist voters who have understandably given up on the Palestinians. Yet that hasn’t stopped some talking heads from jumping to the conclusion that Netanyahu’s showing was proof that Israelis were actually voting for a renewed emphasis on negotiations and would approve of foreign pressure on their government to make concessions.
But the latest statement by the man whose party was the big winner in the election makes it clear that any idea that Israelis cast their ballot on other issues. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was the runner up in the vote as the former journalists new faction came out of nowhere to win 19 Knesset seats and made him the lynchpin of any future coalition headed by Netanyahu. Yet despite the hopes of some Americans that he represents a different point of view about peace, yesterday he told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that his views were very much in line with those of Netanyahu. As Haaretz reports, the only criticism about Israel’s negotiating stance that he uttered was of Netanyahu’s predecessor for offering to give away too much:
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposes any division of Jerusalem as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said on Tuesday evening.
“Ehud Olmert’s government went too far” in its talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said. “It was wrong when it began discussing issues that bore waiting on, such as Jerusalem and the right of return. I oppose any withdrawal in Jerusalem, which isn’t only a place, but an idea as well.”
Listen to anyone in the liberal chattering classes talk about the Middle East and there’s little doubt about who is to blame for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians: Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the conventional wisdom spouted by most daily editorial pages, not to mention the many foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister is alleged to be an intransigent foe of peace talks that has single-handed stopped progress toward peace. That this contradicts the facts about Netanyahu as well as ignores the record of the Palestinians doesn’t seem to bother anyone who spread this disinformation. So no one should be surprised if Netanyahu’s latest affirmation of his support for a two-state solution and call for talks with the Palestinians without preconditions doesn’t change anyone’s mind.
For those paying attention to what is actually going on, as opposed to Palestinian propaganda, Netanyahu gave a watershed speech back in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University in which he formally embraced the two-state concept. Since then he has constantly asked Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to come back to the negotiating table that he fled in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him an independent state including nearly all of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. As Ynet reported, the prime minister said he stood by his Bar-Ilan speech:
Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel, Netanyahu said he still stands by his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech where he backed the concept of two states for two peoples.
“I believe that a framework to peace (with the Palestinians) is what I outlined in my speech in Bar-Ilan University – two states for two peoples: A demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”
There is some debate as to what the announcement that President Obama will be visiting Israel in a few weeks portends. Those on the left, both here and in Israel, ardently hope it is intended to signal a new U.S. push to revive the Middle East peace process during which the president will personally twist the arms of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. However, the lack of any real preparation for such talks, or signs that there is a ghost of a chance that they might succeed, make such expectations seem highly unrealistic.
There is little doubt that the peace process will be on the agenda when Obama goes to Israel. But the notion that the president will be seeking to implement a set plan to force concessions on the Jewish state or that it, as one hysterical left-wing columnist put it in Haaretz, means the “centrality” of the conflict with the Palestinians will be reaffirmed is pure fantasy. It is far more likely that the main point of it will be reaffirming the U.S.-Israel alliance at a time when conflict with Iran, instability in Egypt and civil war in Syria makes coordination between the two governments more essential than ever. That explanation doesn’t speak to the hopes of leftists who want Obama to hammer Israel or the fears of friends of the Jewish state who believe he plans to use his second term to bring it to its knees. But given the timing of the trip, this more humdrum explanation makes a lot more sense.