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By Barry Rubin
Recent stories have reported serious consideration by the Obama Administration in a National Security Council meeting of trying to impose the terms of an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement. In his press conference following the nuclear summit, President Barack Obama backed off this possibility, returning to standard U.S. positions on the issue.
"I think that the need for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the Arab states remains as critical as ever. It is a very hard thing to do. And I know that even if we are applying all of our political capital to that issue, the Israeli people through their government, and the Palestinian people through the Palestinian Authority, as well as other Arab states, may say to themselves, we are not prepared to resolve this--these issues--no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear.
"And the truth is, in some of these conflicts the United States can’t impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism. I think it was former Secretary of State Jim Baker who said, in the context of Middle East peace, we can’t want it more than they do."
So he returned to the idea of the United States as "constantly present, constantly engaged," and making clear that the U.S. government supports a resolution.
Incidentally, that was followed by a strange phrase that is both shocking yet fully within this administration's worldview:
"It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them."
Now an American president can say that his country remains "a dominant military superpower" whether others like it or not, but to imply that there is some preference for the United States being much weaker is pretty remarkable. I don't want to twist his words but one cannot help but think that is the sub-text there.
Regarding the conflict he said that a solution will take time, "progress will be halting" and at times reversible. This suggests that the administration has learned it isn't going to make quick success here. And when a U.S. government understands that a big effort isn't going to yield results, it naturally reduces the effort being made.
What this suggests is that even in the current U.S.-initiated friction with Israel, the president wants to build an image of relative toughness on Israel, for his foreign Muslim and Arab audience, but has low expectations. In this context, the conflict is seen as an irritation to be swept to the sidelines as much as possible so it doesn't interfere with other issues such as Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If this is so, the mini-crisis with Israel is going to fade away in the coming weeks.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.