Why is Obama bothering to come to Israel?

Matti Golan

It is quite possible that Obama's own agenda has issues that he will not want to jeopardize with a confrontation with Israel and the Palestinians.

When I read the reports about the upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama, I cannot understand why he wants to come here. It is not that I have anything against it; a visit by this man is always a good show, because he is a superb performer. He strongly reminds me of former President Bill Clinton in this regard. Nonetheless, he is not coming for a round of guest lectures; he is a serious, very serious, man, and he is very busy. We can therefore assume that when a man like him departs on such a voyage, it is because there is something very important that he wants to say or do.

But the reports stubbornly insist that that is not case. On the contrary, every mention of a possibility of moving forward on talks with the Palestinians is immediately denied, almost in a panic. No, no, not at all. A new peace initiative? No, really no, promises the US ambassador to Tel Aviv. The White House spokesman also says that Obama has no new peace initiative.

Unless we are talking about the peace process between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Most assessments focus on this peace process, and some sources - only the highest of course - say that this is the main objective of the presidential trip. The veteran peace negotiator Dennis Ross believes that Obama is coming to get a new start after the elections, to prove to the public that "he is serious". If that is cast, the president is wasting his time. Any peace with Netanyahu will be very short lived, due to natural causes and his coalition partners. It will not take long until Netanyahu, either willingly or not, undertakes some settlement venture that will displease Obama, and the inter-personal peace will be over.

Why no diplomatic initiative?

After listening to all the commentary about Obama's motives for visiting the Middle East, the question has to be asked: Why not? In other words, why no new initiative or peace plan, or even an old one? Conventional wisdom holds that if we're talking about a new start, in other words, a new government, then maybe this is actually the time for a new initiative too. Any kind of plan.

Obama unquestionably understands this. Like his predecessors, he would love to come with a plan and tell all the sides: "This is it, more or less. See it and bless it." Or something like that. You can talk about the plan, of course, have reservations and requests, but only at the margins, because on the substance, there is nothing to talk about. This is what we're offering; demanding. If someone does not want it, by all means, but he'll have to bear the consequences.

Compulsion is not ideal

This is compulsion, you say? Absolutely. But it is also possible to say that this is the only way to get somewhere. Waiting for the two sides to do it has already been tried and failed. Compulsion is not ideal, of course, but peace is ideal, and you want it, you have to take practical steps, not pretty steps that go nowhere.

Obviously, such steps by the US President will infuriate powerful and influential parties, not only in Israel and in the Arab world, but within his own country, in his Congress, which is strongly influenced by the Jewish lobby. Such a step is also a headache, without question. But Obama has already proven that he has the courage to go against the big and the powerful, when he passed his healthcare reform, which was so controversial in the US.

The question is just how important peace is to Obama. It is quite possible that his own agenda has issues that he will not want to jeopardize with a confrontation with Israel and the Palestinians. This is quite possible, and even understandable. The fact that he is not bringing some diplomatic plan points in this direction. He also wants to get through his presidency without too much noise and alarms. This passes the buck to us, the Israelis and the Palestinians, which means, what was, will be.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 7, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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