For three out of the next four days President Obama’s time will be consumed by Middle East Policy. He has has a speech tomorrow in which he has promised to make headlines, is meeting with Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu on Friday and will be giving and address to the AIPAC convention on Sunday. To the point of getting ridiculous, pundits and reporters on are practically tripping over their underwear trying to predict what headlines will be coming out Obama’s Middle East meetings.
One Israeli newspaper foolishly wrote about what they were told was a draft of tomorrow’s Presidential speech. They claimed that Obama will demand that Israel give all of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians and totally retreat behind the 1949 Armistice lines. This kind of alarmist reporting is as false as it is unproductive.
To understand what will come out of Obama’s half-week in the Middle East, one must take into account domestic politics. The President is running for re-election (O.K. some will say he never stopped running). That means that he cannot risk alienating his core constituencies. At the same time, he cannot risk starting on an initiative that will bring failure, that may alienate the independents. Therefore the Obama “headlines” coming out of the next few days will be decisively bland.
As for the Israeli/Palestinian Territories issues the president has two opposing constituencies, the liberal Jewish voters who tend to be pro-Israel and are important for fund raising and the progressive MoveOn, daily Kos types, along with the Mainstream Media, who tend to be very anti-Israel. While these progressives are not as important for the big fund-raising they still have some with deep pockets (i.e. George Soros), what their real contribution is grass roots organizing, harvesting the smaller but fertile internet contributions and of course, generating negative buzz-worthy stories regarding Republican candidates. Part of the reason why the Obama policy will remain on its current non-directed drifting pattern is his reluctance to anger either constituency (until after the next election).
The other reason he will not make any bold moves on the Israeli/Palestinian issue is he simply does not want to have another failure this close to the election. Obama made solving the Israeli/PA dispute a key priority of his administration when he first took office. Based on his pre-election popularity, arrogance, and naivete’ the POTUS decided he would be able to open his mouth and all parties involved would fall into line. However everything he tried was disastrous, the Saudi’s never came up with the gestures toward Israel he asked for, Israel resented his breaking of previous agreements allowing Israel to expand existing communities, and the Palestinians took Obama’s hard-line regarding expansion of Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, as an excuse to avoid the bargaining table.
Today the Palestinians have absolutely no reason to negotiate, in September they will be working to get a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State though the UN (something the US has promised to veto). Their feeling is that why should they negotiate when they are trying to get what they want “for free.” The Obama administration knows that a hard push for a settlement right now will be met with new Palestinian stubbornness, and doomed to fail. They will not set themselves up for that kind of failure right now.
So what will the President “push” with regards to the Israel/Palestinian Issue? Expect him to “round up the usual suspects,” repeating what he has said before. He will say that the attempt at a unilateral declaration of Palestinian Statehood is not positive that any agreement must be a negotiated one, that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish State and that terrorism must be renounced. On the other side he will say that any agreement must be “based on” the 1949 Armistice lines (as opposed to a demand that Israel retreat fully), that both sides must find a way to share Jerusalem (as opposed to all Arab areas must be handed over to the Palestinians), and Israel must cease any settlement expansion in the West Bank and further avoid any act which could be construed as changing the status quo on the ground.
So where are the promised headlines? I suspect the President will once again compare the “Arab Spring” to the American Revolution forgetting that the revolution replaced a repressive regime with freedom, and in most cases, the “Arab Spring” is replacing a tyrannical leader with an oppressive, terrorism-oriented Islamist regime. He will make warm flowery statements about his vision for their future, and perhaps even announce a Marshall Plan-like effort to rebuild the countries torn-apart by “civil-war.”
President Obama will spend three of the next four days immersed in the Middle East, but do not expect anything bold or controversial. You should expect the Middle East equivalent of “mom and apple pie” type rhetoric (mom and hummus?).