If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…
It’s a generally undisputed adage, but Shmuel Rosner writes on Slate.com that Obama is wasting his time trying to broker Middle East peace between Israel and the disputed Palestinian territories.
Obama—and now that we know him better, it is less of a surprise—was reaching for the stars and reaped no more than a handful of air. “Yes we can” ran into “no we won’t.” Israel will not freeze settlements, Palestinians will not soften their demands, and Arabs will not lend a hand. And, by the way, Iran will not halt its nuclear program, Russia will not vote for stronger sanctions, Lebanon will not have a Hezbollah-free government, and Syria will not arrest terrorists crossing into Iraq. Not until they have better reasons to do what Obama wants them to do. Not until he shows them that he can also wait for them to make a move.
It’s true that the chances of a “Yes, We Can” victory on the Middle East front look grim. Getting Israelis and Palestinians to see eye to eye, or at least agree to disagree and settle on some compromise such as the two-state solution Obama wants, is about as likely as the proverbial lamb laying down with the lion. But who is to say Obama should slow his pace to a light jog, letting Israel and the Palestinian National Authority take the lead and set the tone? When I checked in December, they weren’t exactly laying down the foundation for the peacemaking process.
Undoubtedly Obama knows that nothing will be solved tomorrow. A distinction exists between being naive and being ambitious. He might not see the day during his presidency when the Middle East is at peace. In fact, he probably won’t, because let’s face it: The Middle East problem goes far beyond settlements; it reaches back to biblical times and an inherent claim by both Israelis and Palestinians that the land is rightfully theirs. But he can be the president who at least cared enough to “reach for the stars,” as Rosner put it.
Look at JFK, who Obama is often compared to. His achievements during his presidency actually weren’t spectacular. Few of his major programs lived to see the light of day before his assassination. But he set the wheels in motion for major legislation that Lyndon B. Johnson passed. For that, among other reasons, most Americans revere Kennedy. I’m sure someone back then said he shouldn’t bother either. That he should just wait and see.
And already, Obama has taken a different approach than his predecessors and has redefined what it means to be pro-Israel. He has revoked the blank check former American presidents handed to Israel, who were afraid to appear anything but conciliatory and supportive. Caring about Israel’s longevity is not about supporting the stalwart conservatives who won’t make any concessions, who fear that any concession at all is a sign of weakness to terrorists and non-supporters. Israel’s chance for survival means showing some willingness to appease its enemies, an idea that was supported in a recent New York Times article.
This, I would argue, is returning with a little more than a handful of air.