Redrawing the Strategic Map of the Middle East

This is a great rundown by Marc Lynch of a New America Foundation panel discussion yesterday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lynch frames it as the context by which the Obama administration can use the next few weeks of high-profile visits, press conferences and speeches to set the table for a results-based regional policy.

Lynch’s summary suggests that, similarly to the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic rethink, a good deal of the work President Barack Obama has cut out for him is convincing the actors involved not just to do things that are painful or politically costly, but to redraw their strategic maps of the region. In this case, Iran plays the role of India: neither Israel’s fixation on the Iranian threat nor the Arab “cold war” must be allowed to drive the Palestinian track.

Also interesting to note that a key element of this agenda, namely a Palestinian unity government, remains well outside of American hands.

Indeed, the one significant step the Obama administration can take unilaterally, according to Lynch’s framework, is to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

If there is a consensus that seems to be emerging, in both the Arab world and in policy circles, it’s the idea of urgency and a short clock. The major consequence of the Gaza War is that, unlike his predecessors, President Barack Obama doesn’t have an eight-year horizon for delivering simple progress on a two-state solution. As Lynch puts it, the listening stage is just about done. After this upcoming round of diplomacy, there will be a brief working period after which the Obama administration will have to have delivered some tangible results in order to maintain its legitimacy.

The big question is whether President Barack Obama is willing and able to put the screws on Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu to get him to sign on to that consensus. I’ve got nothing more than a hunch to go on, but I get the feeling Obama might have asurprise in store for those who believe he isn’t.

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