Pivot or Feint?

The Washington Post editors think Obama is pivoting on his Middle East policy. After pummeling Israel in public, demanding unilateral concessions, and raising Palestinians’ hopes, Obama, they say, is trying something new:

With U.S. midterm elections looming, Mr. Obama tried a different tack Tuesday, showering Mr. Netanyahu with public praise and encouragement during a White House visit. The president said he believes that the Israeli leader “wants peace,” praised his “restraint” on settlements and joined with him in calling on Palestinians to begin direct peace negotiations by September, when the settlement freeze expires. This switch may look craven to some of Israel’s critics — but in fact it is smart. By reaffirming U.S. support for Israel and pressing for direct talks, Mr. Obama has created an opportunity to put both Palestinian leaders and Mr. Netanyahu to the test and to discover who is serious and who is not about a two-state settlement.

This raises a number of issues, starting with a basic question: is this a domestic political gambit brought about by the “looming” midterm election? One can imagine how dismal the fundraising numbers must have been and how frightened the White House was to bring about even an atmospheric change this dramatic. What we don’t know is whether it signals a substantive reversal and whether Obama is going to, for example, cease doing the Palestinians’ negotiating for them.

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Pivot or Feint?

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