Thoughts from Walter Russell Mead:
As so often in the past, but catastrophically this time, he found the “sour spot”: the position that angers everyone and pleases none. He moved close enough to the Israelis to infuriate the Palestinians while keeping the Israelis at too great a distance to earn their trust. One can argue (correctly in my view) that US policy must at some level distance itself from the agendas of both parties to help bring peace. But that has to be done carefully, and to make it work one first needs to win their trust. Obama lost the trust of the Israelis early in the administration and never earned it back; he lost the Palestinians when he was unable to deliver Israeli concessions he led them to expect.
The President is now wandering across Europe seeking to mend fences with allies (Britain, France, Poland) he had earlier neglected and/or offended; at home, his authority and credibility have been holed below the waterline. Everyone who followed the events of the last week knows that the President has lost control of the American-Israeli relationship and that he has no near-term prospects of rescuing the peace process. The Israelis, the Palestinians and the US Congress have all rejected his leadership. Peace processes are generally good things even if they seldom bring peace; one hopes the President can find a way to relaunch American diplomacy on this issue but for now he seems to have reached a dead end — and to have allowed himself to be fatally tagged as too pro-Israel to win the affection of the Europeans and Arabs, and too pro-Palestinian to be trusted either by Israel or by many of the Americans who support it.
He was never up to the job. Of course, there was never any reason for a sane person to think he would be.
[Update a few minutes later]
The Camp David Accords of 1978 ended any Egyptian claim to the Gaza strip. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 still had to involve the Egyptians, because if the Egyptians did not help keep weapons out of Gaza, and instead encouraged terrorist resistance to Israel, Israeli security would be mortally threatened — and the two countries would start drifting back toward the logic of confrontation that existed between them in the 1950s and 1960s. Israel had originally insisted on controlling the Egypt-Gaza border after the unilateral withdrawal, but caved in to the Egyptians’ assurances that they would control it effectively.
The Obama administration should have been keenly sensitive to this, and should have conditioned all U.S. aid on Egypt’s upholding agreements and undertakings made with respect to Gaza in connection with the Israeli withdrawal.
But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. As Mead says, we may not be far from the next intifada, or even the next war.
[Update later morning]
Obama continues to make things worse in the Middle East:
Democrats are loath to admit the president doesn’t know what he is doing, so they are left trying to convince themselves and others that this is a fuss about nothing. The most honest defense I heard from a pro-Israel Democratic staffer was to acknowledge that Obama had made mincemeat out of the “peace process” but to remind me that talks aren’t going anywhere anyway. In essence, “no harm, no foul” and look at all the hardware and military support we’ve given Israel!
The problem with this formulation is three-fold. First, Obama has staked so much of his personal credibility on the peace process that failure (well, more failure) will cement the perception that the president has no influence in the region. Second, there is a very real dilemma: the pending action by the United Nations. It’s far from clear that taking away bargaining leverage from Israel is going to impress the parties, get the Palestinians (which ones? Mahmoud Abbas?) to the table, or persuade the Europeans, who seem bent on throwing Israel to the wolves. If anything, rifts between the United States and Israel tend to encourage Israel’s enemies. And finally, the president underestimated the degree to which fellow Democrats would rebuke him.
Plus, bonus commentary from Alan Dershowitz, who is also pretty appalled.