Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bill Clinton: Too Big To Fail

The following is reposted from Open Zion, a featured section of The Daily Beast, where I contribute a regular column

President Obama's next move in the Middle East is so obvious I almost hesitate to suggest it: before the Israeli election season completely unfolds, ask, cajole, or beg Bill Clinton to take on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Clinton understands the details and the players. He naturally symbolizes the achievements of the Abbas-Olmert negotiations, which picked up where the Clinton parameters left off.  He is extremely popular in Israel and (through Ehud Barak) very close to the Israeli defense community. He is insanely popular among American Jews.

Clinton also has enormous international prestige and his Global Initiative represents the kind of economic development and political creativity a two-state solution will need.  Should Hillary run in 2016, what could be better for her than a peace deal in process. Bill Clinton now has Obama's trust and everybody knows it.  He is too big to fail.

The appointment, if it could be made in the next month or so, will be the most subtle way to promise efficient pressure on the Israeli government, discredit Netanyahu's candidacy, and bring a saving prestige to Abbas, without distressing either the Israeli center-right, much of which will anyway support Likud, or American Jews, most of whom indeed support the parameters that bear his name. (See this latest J Street poll by Jim Gerstein, and turn to slide 36.)

President Obama has been advised to keep away from the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This is terrible advice. The status quo in Palestine will bring new and destabilizing violence more dangerous than any Iranian bomb.  The young Arab street, especially in Egypt, will never be reconciled to Obama's leadership, or the American model of democratic globalization, so long as Palestinians live under occupation.

Yet, granted, Obama has more immediate priorities. To address the Israel-Palestine issue he needs a public figure to be a lightening rod for all the hard feeling that will come out as the process evolves without forcing Obama himself to get into the weeds or risk his prestige as specific difficulties are leaked.  Another George Mitchell will not do.  Obama needs something like what Henry Kissinger was for Richard Nixon during the post-1973 disengagement shuttles.  That person has been standing by his side for the past month and has unfinished business of his own.

4 comments:

Y. Ben-David said...

Always dreaming, always looking for the magic fix..."Arab-Israel peace is possible if we just find the right forumla", or this one's "Arab-Israeli peace is possible if we just find the right intermediary". Dream on. Sometimes conflicts are so deep and so entrenched that nothing can solve them. Maybe someday you will understand it, even after all these decades.

Potter said...

I don't know if Bill Clinton is physically up to it or has the fire for this particular knot anymore having been through this battle, the intransigence of it, the thanklessness of it. Clearly he loved the spotlight and shone during this campaign season working for Obama. I think Hillary wants and deserves a rest too. They did their bit.

I think the Issue requires the kind of ( concerted) pressure and punishments that we have not seen yet- beyond the ability of one man, even a genius.

What you describe as the thinking behind the maintenance of the "status quo", the outrageousness and unreality of it, will bring responses sooner or later.

If Obama does nothing more than maintain his current stance I think that will be okay for awhile especially if Netanyahu wins.. Consider too that the Arab countries want to see more fairness from us - a harder line towards the Israelis- more daylight so to speak. And it is in our interest to try to prove again that we are honest brokers that hold a vision of justice that transcends the extremes.

Potter said...

Unusual lately, I agree with Thomas Friedman on this one:

President Obama is Busy

Sam said...

A remarkably prescient post. No doubt you'll have seen this article in today's Times: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2012/11/18/world/middleeast/18reuters-palestinians-israel-envoy.html?hp