President Obama on Saturday.(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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Obama Impotent in the Mideast

Hugely unpopular, he has little to offer, and everyone knows it

Marc Tracy
November 22, 2010
President Obama on Saturday.(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Ben Smith’s story on the situation in Israel is a must-read—it’s the product of a week in the region, and it is quite insightful. Bottom line: Basically everyone on all sides agree that President Obama’s vigorous efforts to move the peace process forward have failed—at best, farcically; at worst, tragically.

The American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances—the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found nine percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naiveté and inexperience.

Ouch. And Smith succinctly summarizes the fundamental problem with direct negotiations at this moment in time: “Virtually nobody in Israel who isn’t required by the logic of politics to express public faith in the political process of peace talks has much faith that the talks will lead anywhere.” The main problems are the ones you already know: The intransigent elements of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own governing coalition; the unwillingness of the West Bank leadership to make the concessions that even non-intransigent Israeli politicians and citizens would demand; and—oh yeah—the fact that the Gaza Strip is ruled by a terrorist proxy of Iran.

Smith notes that the one piece of “news” he broke in the piece is that the U.S. enticement of 20 new F-35 fighter jets as part of the freeze-extension deal actually has nothing to do with the freeze: Israel requested the planes in August in reaction to an unprecedented U.S. fighter-plane sale to Saudi Arabia. In other words, as both I and Gershom Gorenberg guessed, many of the carrots offered in the freeze deal—selling them planes, vetoing Palestinian statehood at the United Nations—were things that the U.S. is going to do anyway. Which further demonstrates the lack of leverage Obama is operating with.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.