Barack Obama flirts with Mideast peace push in final months

When he came to power, he appeared to imply it was one of his priorities.

AFP| Updated: Sep 21, 2016, 19:06 PM IST
Barack Obama flirts with Mideast peace push in final months

United Nations: When he came to power, he appeared to imply it was one of his priorities.

In reality, US President Barack Obama has made less headway than many of his peers trying to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Now, with just four months remaining in office, is Obama once again thinking about peace in the Middle East?

No-one in Washington was expecting a sudden breakthrough in the stand-off between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s government and Mahmud Abbas` Palestinian authority.

But in New York on Wednesday for the final United Nations General Assembly of his eight-year double term, Obama will meet the Israeli leader, perhaps for the last time.

Will the meeting prove to be another tense footnote to a stalemate, or a last bid to influence a dossier that confronted and disappointed of all his predecessors?

Little public comment is expected from Wednesday`s meeting -- the parties are too far apart -- but some observers expect Obama to enter the fray with a major speech after the November 8 presidential election.

"This would be a declaratory effort to put on record what America believes are the parameters for a solution," argued Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center.

"And it would be an effort to put the Obama... signature or stamp on an issue that presumably he cares deeply about," the former senior advisor argued.

On January 22, 2009, Obama marked his second day after his swearing in as leader of the Free World by nominating George Mitchell as Middle East peace envoy.

The former senator had been the point man in talks to end Britain`s Northern Ireland conflict, and his promotion had been seen as marking the young US leader`s seriousness.

The president himself, elected on a vague but inspiring "hope and change" ticket, vowed to "aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

Eight years later, that has not come to pass. Israel and its neighbors are enduring a rough patch of political violence, despite high-profile international oversight.

Whatever personal tensions undermine ties between Obama and Netanyahu, the leader in the White House enjoys access to a bully pulpit.

Last week, Obama endorsed Israel`s record 10-year, $38 billion US military aid contract -- a predictable result of the talks, but one which emphasized tensions.

Does this gift give Obama leverage to pressure the Jewish state`s government into accepting the groundwork for a future compromise? Well, not quite.

If Obama had left Israel-Palestine at the heart of what he has done or not done in office, the challengers in the race to replace him might have made it an election issue.

Instead, both Obama`s preferred successor Hillary Clinton and his Republican antagonist Donald Trump have limited themselves to a defense of their records as supporters of Israeli security.

In the final month of his presidency in 2000 Bill Clinton had clear goals for the Middle East: two states alongside one another, with a shared capital in parts of Jerusalem, and he met with both sides for a final push.

"This was done in a low key fashion, with very little media visibility because Clinton honestly still believed there was still a chance to get a deal," Miller said.

Obama, however, would have to make a more public impact.

If he chooses to re-enter the debate it would be to lay down the outlines of a future peace deal, binding the parties to a two-state solution that both say they support, but which today seems very far off.