Binyamin Netanyahu and George Mitchell have concluded more talks about the peace process, which so far means talks about a settlement freeze. Neither the Americans nor Israelis believed they would find themselves here: the latter didn’t expect such a confrontational American opening, and the former didn’t anticipate that its approach would alienate the Israeli public and shield Bibi from domestic political pressure.
Soon, a modus vivendi will surely be reached that will allow Mr Obama to say he delivered a settlement freeze. Bibi will be able to say that his concessions earned reciprocal Arab gestures.
Such an agreement is Mahmoud Abbas’s greatest fear. His preference is to watch from the sidelines as US-Israel relations deteriorate.
But if a deal on settlements is reached, Mr Obama will have to focus again on the Palestinians and the Arab states. Here he may run into significant problems. A peace process focused on the West Bank will not, as conventional wisdom holds, enhance moderates and undermine radicals.
The opposite: Hamas will be revived as the peace process provides an ideological home to all the Palestinians — about half — who remain opposed to negotiations with the Jews.
Then there are the Arab states. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan all recently announced their opposition to the peace process. This was widely interpreted as an attempt at creating leverage over Israel, by raising the price of their participation. In reality, the Arabs were sending a message to Mr Obama that they are frustrated at his unwillingness to confront their true concern: the Iranian nuclear programme.
In the midst of all of this is Mr Obama’s rapidly diminishing domestic position. This has been his summer of discontent, and if his slide in popularity carries on, he will be left with precious little leverage with which to pressure anyone, Arab or Israeli.