Veteran Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller writes:
Events in the past several days isn’t about pro- or anti-Israel, too much or too little pressure; it’s about whether the Obama administration is acting dumb or smart, and let’s just say events of the past several days suggest the president isn’t being real smart…
To pick a fight with the Israelis on the eve of the visit of an Israeli prime minister with whom you don’t have a relationship (but who you need if you want to get anywhere on the peace process) is dumb; to put out June 1967 lines without any backgrounding after the speech is dumb; to take a position in non-existent negotiations and identify your position as a would-be mediator is dumb; and to send a message to the Palestinians that “you really have me [scared] about your virtual statehood initiative so maybe I’ll identify my position on Jerusalem next” is dumb.
The smarter play would have been running silent and deep now, not loud and noisy. Don’t give a peace process speech now; keep your powder dry and options open…
Right now the president has gotten the worst of all worlds: He’s pissed off the Israelis, failed to satisfy and preempt Palestinians from their initiative and given the Republicans a ready-made issue to hammer him. And for what? Applause from the Europeans at the G-8? That’s not smart.
Miller is actually being too kind when he says “without any backgrounding after the speech” — in fact, Obama’s aids gave background to the New York Times that overspun his slight rhetorical shift regarding borders. Obama had to spend much of his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday clarifying, as he testily put it, “what I actually said on Thursday, not what I was reported to have said.” The Israelis happily accepted the clarification; the misguided attempt to appease the Palestinians utterly failed.
Netanyahu speech to Congress was a triumph, and the reception demonstrated the broad support Israel enjoys in the US. Obama may not realize it, but the public affirmation of the alliance between the US and Israel — still a key factor in securing US interests — actually did him a huge favor. But the whole kerfuffle was a major distraction from what should be the focus of US policy in the region: guiding the political convulsions in the Arab world in a positive direction. There’s much work to be done on that front. It’s long past time the Obama Administration got its priorities straight.