Saturday, 23 March 2013

Obama, Kerry negotiate their own peace efforts

President Barack Obama is still testing the waters on Mideast peace — but John Kerry can’t wait to dive in.
And Kerry, long used to getting to call his own shots, now has to wait for his new boss to say how deep he can go.

The president said repeatedly before and during his trip here that he believes in the peace process — but he believes as well that that the Israelis and Palestinians will need to show some flexibility before he gets much more involved. As strong as his pro-peace remarks have been during the trip, they haven’t changed the president’s reluctance to get stung by another failed effort at peace like he did during his first term

The secretary of state sees making a deal happen as a critical part of his new job — and while Obama has plenty of other foreign and domestic issues that could cement his legacy, brokering Mideast peace is the rare kind of diplomatic achievement that could put Kerry in the history books.

So far, Obama seems willing to allow Kerry to take a whirl, so long as he keeps a low profile and doesn’t generate a political backlash. But the president still hasn’t done much to answer the key question of how much of his own political capital he’ll put into the effort.

“There are greener pastures that beckon [Obama] in Asia, and you can see, from a variety of other actions that he’s taken or hasn’t taken in the Middle East, that he would rather turn away from this region,” former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said last week. “John Kerry has exactly the opposite instinct. He wants to engage in the Middle East — and, in particular, he wants to take on the Israeli-Palestinian challenge, and it’s a high priority for him.”

Obama in his speech to the Israeli people on Thursday spoke bluntly of tough political choices needed for peace. He said Israel should move forward on restarting talks, even though it wouldn’t be easy. He argued that the rise of more democratic governments in the Arab Spring, the escalating sophistication and ability of weapons and the demographics that pose a threat to Israel as a majority-Jewish state, all make the need for peace critical.

But he didn’t say how much muscle he’s willing to apply to push the two sides closer together — on the contrary, he sounded averse to arm-twisting and lukewarm on the chances for success.

“There is an opportunity there, there’s a window,” Obama told his audience. “Peace is possible. … I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. I can’t even say that it is more likely than not. But it is possible.” More

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