Obama’s Gaza Gambit

In her WPR column today, Frida Ghitis makes a very strong case for getting Middle East diplomacy off the podium and back into the negotiating room. As usual, it’s a great column, and the point is well taken. President Barack Obama has such a gift for oratory that it’s understandable he wants to use it to his advantage. But as Ghitis argues, loud public declarations tend to box in negotiating positions. That’s good if you have no intention of yielding and you basically just want to put your counterpart on the spot. But that doesn’t seem like a promising approach to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, I was a bit surprised in the run-up to and delivery of the Cairo speech that the Obama administration had put such an emphasis on the settlement issue, which is an admittedly central obstacle to progress, but whose resolution can not be immediate. I’d expected addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza to be the priority, since it will have a more immediate impact, both in terms of time and emotion. Now Haaretz reports that the administration began to put more pressure on the Netanyahu government to do just that three weeks ago, before the Cairo speech. The subject also came up in discussions with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Washington yesterday as well.

In light of Ghitis’ column, there’s something revealing about the fact that tomorrow’s showdown was handled in the spotlight, while today’s was kept behind the scenes.