President Obama confirmed what I reported earlier in my Washington Watch column, namely that he has no plans to take a “grand peace plan” on his Middle East trip later this month. The prospects for peace are “bleak,” he told leaders of several Jewish organizations at a White House meeting on Thursday.
The Israeli peace camp and the Palestinians had been urging Obama to bring an American peace initiative, but it was never in the cards.
The President is expected to arrive in Israel on March 20 and will also visit Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and the king of Jordan. He said he hopes to have the peace process back on track within a year if the two sides can avoid the kind of unilateral actions that only drive them apart. He was believed to be referring to Israeli settlement activity and the Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel.
A top item on the President’s agenda — and number one on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s – will be Iran. Obama will reiterate to the Israeli people – possibly in a major public gathering — his commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and his willingness to use military force if diplomacy and other means fail. Obama reiterated to Jewish leaders that his policy is prevention, not containment.
Earlier in the week Vice President Joe Biden told the AIPAC policy conference that the President “is not bluffing” about Iran and “all options, including military force, are on the table”
The President came to office four years ago intending to make a full court press for Israeli-Palestinian peace but bungled it by not properly preparing the ground and lining up support at home, in Israel and among the Arabs. His opening call in 2009 for a total settlement freeze was promptly rejected by the Netanyahu government and tightly embraced by the Palestinian Authority. So tightly did Mahmoud Abbas adopt Obama’s demand as his own that long after the President dropped it the Palestinian leader continues to cling to it as his basic precondition before he will have any talks with the Israelis. Unless that changes serious negotiations remain unlikely.
A White House official said Obama sees his trip as “an opportunity for him to speak directly to the Israeli people about the history, interests and values that we share.”
Obama also plans to speak with Israeli leaders about the Syrian civil war, the situation in Egypt and other parts of the region.