Washington has seen many carnivals surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yasser Arafat entered and exited the White House, as did Ariel Sharon, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert. At Camp David Bill Clinton yelled at Arafat and Ehud Barak until his throat hurt, but in the end even he gave up in the face of the bazaar-like laws of the Middle East. This time, however, the negotiators are being greeted by a distant and reserved president who asked that he be bothered only when the sides are ready to sign.
Obama has learned the lesson from his first term, when he threw all of his weight in order to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sent George Mitchell to the Middle East. But a year and a half later, despite the many attempts and good intentions, the envoy reported that the sides were refusing to budge, turned in his keys and retired.
Obama took it personally: He wanted to justify the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded as an advance at the beginning of his term, but the Middle East was not understanding of his situation. The American president did not conceal his disappointment from Netanyahu and Abbas and turned his back on them – until Secretary of State Kerry arrived and jumpstarted the peace negotiations.
But therein lies the problem: If Obama will continue to be absent/present during the current talks as well, the chances that Kerry will succeed are slim. The Middle East likes dramas and understands very well the language of force and power. Therefore, both sides need to feel the wings of the president spread above them. Otherwise, they will quickly get back to doing what they've done over the years: Drag their feet.
For a peace agreement to be reached, Obama will eventually have to jump in the water and take on the role of lead actor in this play, because Kerry, with all his good intentions, will not be able to. Obama will either serve as a sponsor for the talks or let Kerry wait alone for the arrival of spring. If the process ends without an agreement, Obama will become indifferent to the Middle East.
The American president considers this to be the last chance during his watch: Peace now and a ceremony on the White House lawn, or the Israelis and Palestinians will have to do it on their own.
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