How can President Obama drag the Middle East peace wagon out of the mud? He can’t—at least not until the region’s leaders feel enough of a sense of urgency to take the risks necessary to achieve breakthroughs. Right now, Arab and Israeli leaders are convinced that Obama is in more of a hurry than they are, so they are content to have him do the heavy lifting.
Some counsel that Obama should leave Arabs and Israelis to stew in their own juices until they realise the situation is critical. The problem with that approach is that nature, especially in the Middle East, abhors a vacuum. Already, the American failure to move the parties back to the negotiating table has led the French to call for an international conference, the Palestinians to seek a UN Security Council vote on statehood, and others to argue for an imposed solution. Those ideas can’t go anywhere without American leadership, but they might well box in the United States and make it even more difficult for Obama to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Worse, Hamas is just waiting to fill the vacuum that will be left if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas resigns in despair at not having accomplished a negotiated solution. Hamas’ bid would be assisted by a looming Israeli-Hamas prisoner swap and rising tension over Jerusalem—the very kind of issues that sparked the second intifada.