Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bad time for Obama to fight with Israel

(AARON DAVID MILLER - POLITICO 44).......But don’t bet on America hammering the Israelis. The last thing this president needs now is a fight with Israel.

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works.

But most important, for this very busy president, the Arab-Israeli issue now has little to do with his stock at home. Frankly, it isn’t even the most important priority in the region.

Obama is presiding over two costly and unpopular wars and a jobless recovery and is on the verge of the endgame on health care. He doesn’t need additional diversions and distractions.

Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem.

No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

Indeed, at the right time, there may well be a fight worth having with both the Israelis and the Palestinians about a final-status agreement. If such an agreement could be achieved, this would make Obama look good and also advance Israeli and Palestinian interests.

No one ever lost money betting against Arab-Israeli peace, and Obama probably won’t, either.

But an overstretched president has to pick his fights carefully. And going after the Israelis now over the Jerusalem issue just isn’t one of them.