This week, U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan. Obama’s advisers, worried about the potential consequences of either addressing the gloomy state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process head-on or presenting a new U.S. plan for the region, seem inclined to let the president use the visit to reaffirm the same old talking points: the urgency of a two-state solution, the dangers of terrorism, and the drawbacks of further settlement construction. To be sure, Obama will be able to count the staid, highly choreographed trip as a personal success. But if, as expected, he makes no real diplomatic headway, the trip will have served only to damage the administration’s already weak efforts to revitalize the peace process.
Obama has every incentive not to waste the visit: for one, almost everybody in the Middle East would interpret a trip that had more glib photo ops than substantive meetings as proof of American disinterest in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More broadly, the president can actually achieve some tangible progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. To do so, however, he will need to lay the groundwork for partial agreements between the parties instead of continuing to aspire toward the elusive goal of a comprehensive deal.
Obama’s hosts, too, could benefit from real engagement on the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu knows that he needs to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, lest its collapse pave the way for a third intifada or, ultimately, a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Netanyahu is well aware that the present situation in the West Bank is not sustainable in the long run. What is more, moving forward on the Palestinian issue would help cement U.S.-Israeli cooperation in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, also sorely needs a diplomatic victory. He has made sure that reconciliation talks between his own Fatah movement and Hamas remain in the news but do not