Israeli-Palestinian talks impending: does Obama have something up his sleeve?

A major Israeli-Palestinian summit in Washington is only hours away, but you’d hardly know it by the sparse media coverage and the relative paucity of comment from an administration that is working hard to keep expectations in check.

Looking through my in-box, there are lots of statements and briefings from the White House and State Department – but only a smattering of news about the talks, which will begin at the State Department dinner on Wednesday night.

I’ve been through the Madrid conference, the Oslo signings, Wye River, Shepherdstown and Camp David, and never have I seen such a laid-back run up to a major Middle East summit

Is that because expectations are really low, or because the administration is trying to keep them low as part of their strategy? Maybe we’ll get a better sense of it this week.

What’s pretty obvious: the odds against any breakthroughs this week are huge, the potential for a quick and catastrophic breakdown just as high. It’s going to take some extraordinary diplomacy by the Obama administration to avoid the appearance of a big foreign policy disaster it can ill afford.

That leads me to one tentative conclusion: the administration has something up its sleeve.

Nothing dramatic, like a sweeping U.S. peace plan, but very likely a series of specific bridging proposals meant to break through the current stalemate and create a climate in which ongoing negotiations might have a chance.

Moreover, I’m guessing special envoy George Mitchell has vetted these ideas with both ideas and has reason to hope they will be accepted. I’m having a hard time imagining administration Middle East officials are going into this process without a clue how they’ll finesse the deal-breaking issue centering on the expiration of Israel’s settlement building moratorium on September 26.

I can’t see them calling an international conference, bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahoud Abbas to town as well as Egypt’s president and Jordan’s king, and then simply watching as their little pow wow goes through the predictable death throes.

But as I said, we’ll see in a few days, and I’ve overestimated the Obama administration’s ability to get things done in the past.

Meanwhile, Politico’s Laura Rozen has a good story today on the administration’s intensive and largely successful outreach to the pro-Israel community. Read it here.

The New York Times has a nice overview of some of the problems the administration faces here.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.