In the daily White House briefing today, Press Secretary Jay Carney let drop a rather important nugget of information: President Obama is planning to make a major speech on Middle East policy “fairly soon.” Carney didn’t add any other details, but the motivation behind the announcement or the timing of an imminent Obama speech isn’t hard to figure out.
First, despite the utter incompetence displayed by the administration with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Obama is feeling confident about his standing in the world following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Obama feels that the Al Qaeda leader’s demise gives him some capital in the arena of foreign policy and the president is too much the liberal to want to save it up for a rainy day. On the contrary, whatever capital he does have is burning a hole in his pocket, and it’s no surprise that he would return to the first issue he addressed after his election: Israel and the Palestinians.
Second, Obama is fearful of being outmaneuvered again by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. At every step of their testy relationship, Obama has sought to discomfit the Israeli, but the initiatives that were intended to destabilize Netanyahu’s Cabinet or box him into an untenable position—the fights picked by the United States on settlements and Jerusalem, for example—have only strengthened him. Scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress later this month at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, Netanyahu will have the opportunity to mobilize the bipartisan coalition that supports his country. By pushing ahead with his own speech, Obama may be seeking to preempt Netanyahu by obliging him to accept or reject a plan sponsored by his country’s only ally.
With the Palestinians’ having taken themselves out of the peace process by means of a “unity” pact between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorists, the notion that an American plan could break the impasse is farcical. Many presidents before him have issued peace plans but none has worked and there is no reason to think that under the current circumstances Obama will succeed.
However, Obama has always been obsessed with the idea of outreach to the Islamic world, as illustrated by his June 2009 Cairo speech and his futile effort to “engage” Iran. By staking out a position that once again distances the United States from Israel, he may be hoping to propitiate Muslims, even though it is doubtful many will care. An Obama Middle East speech will likely do nothing for peace. But it is almost certain to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance while doing little to advance American interests in the region.