Analysis: The president blames everyone but himself

By Shmuel Rosner, September 24, 2009

So now we know that both the Israelis and Palestinians are to blame.

“It’s time to show the flexibility, common sense and compromise which is necessary to achieve our goals,” President Obama preached to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week.

His great achievement of the evening: the handshake. More than a decade-and-a-half after Yitzhak Rabin, reluctantly, shook the hands of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the White House, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas were also shaking hands for the first time.

No tears were shed this time round.

Naturally, Mr Obama was urging both Israelis and Palestinians to do more. This is what Mr Obama has been doing for quite a while now, without much success.

He was right to say that all sides — Israeli, Palestinian, Arab — are guilty of some faults. All, including the one he failed to mention: the American mediator.

This American mediator now has a problem. Israelis are suspicious of him because of his battles with their government. Palestinians are disappointed since they did not get what they want.

As special envoy George Mitchell goes back to the drawing board, he will have to scale back expectations — and start where Israelis (and some Palestinians) think he has the best chance for success: the so-called “bottom up” building of Palestinian institutions.

Some Washington insiders already whisper that such a mission — rather than the heroic if futile attempt to produce a “final status” agreement — does not really fit Mr Mitchell’s temper and ego.

But the ego most worrisome for Israeli officials is not Mr Mitchell’s — it is Mr Obama’s.

While he seemed to be realising, if grudgingly, that his plan for quick fixes was failing, not all are convinced that Mr Obama really understands the lessons of the past couple of months.

Does he appreciate the fact that the advice he was getting from the unprofessional political circle closest to him failed him?

Will he now rely more on people who understand the Middle East, and less on those who substitute preordained opinions for real knowledge?

In Israel, the fingers were pointed at Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as the one most responsible for the off-balance policy of recent months.

Thus, Israeli officials were quick to interpret the presence of Dennis Ross — former special envoy to presidents Clinton and Bush — as a reassuring sign. If he is there, they said, this means that the President is finally getting better advice.

Of course, this means something only if he listens.

Shmuel Rosner blogs at Rosner’s Domain

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010