As Kerry Kick-Starts Peace Process, Where’s Obama?

Skeptics wonder if a President burned once by the peace process will really engage again.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman, Jordan, on July 17, 2013

John Kerry‘s persistence has paid off: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet in Washington this evening to resume the long-dormant Middle East peace process. That’s no small accomplishment for a Secretary of State whose fixation with breaking the Israeli-Arab deadlock has produced snickers from some who say Kerry is chasing visions of a grand legacy down a dead-end alley.

But in the end, it’s not Kerry who can broker a peace breakthrough — it’s Barack Obama. And the open question is how much a President who felt burned by the peace process in his first term may be willing to risk in the name of brokering a peace deal in his second.

“Left on their own, the parties will not be able to get an agreement,” says University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami, a former adviser to Obama’s first-term Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, and author of The World Through Arab Eyes. “The effort required is above Kerry’s pay grade. At some point, the President will have to step in big. If I were in Kerry’s shoes, I would not go in too deep without getting Obama’s commitment to back him up. I am not sure he has yet.”

(PHOTOS: Secretary of State John Kerry’s First Overseas Trip)

The uncertainty seems warranted, given that Obama hasn’t yet commented in public about Kerry’s efforts. On Friday, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest would say only: “We certainly welcome the beginning of those conversations. But I don’t have anything to say right now about presidential involvement.”

There’s also Obama’s well-known frustration with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, each of whom contributed to the embarrassment and political damage Obama suffered when his first-term play for a peace deal failed — even by his own admission.

To be sure, Obama hasn’t been totally absent from this flurry of peace-process activity, the first in nearly three years. He called Netanyahu earlier this month and urged him to rejoin negotiations with the Palestinians. And on a visit to Israel in March, Obama delivered a rousing address to an audience of young Israelis making a case for why peace is vital to their country: “Peace is necessary … peace is also just,” Obama declared, adding that a deal remains possible.

Many former peace-process hands are doubtful, however. “I don’t really understand the basis for optimism right now,” says Elliott Abrams, a former national-security staffer in the George W. Bush White House.

(MORE: The Illusion of Progress: 9 Reasons Why Israel-Palestinian Talks May Fail)

Abrams is particularly skeptical that Obama is ready for an active role in brokering a deal. “This all does seem to be coming from [Kerry] himself. I don’t think he’s being pushed by the President or [National Security Adviser Susan] Rice or [former National Security Adviser Tom] Donilon.” The civil war in Syria and political chaos in Egypt argue against making the peace process America’s top priority in the region, Abrams argues.

It’s possible that Obama is more supportive than he appears — or so argues one senior Administration official who spoke to TIME: “The President’s given Kerry everything he’s asked for, not just running room but reinforcement in public and in private,” says this official. “A week hasn’t gone by that they haven’t talked and measured progress on this initiative, and they’re like-minded about the dangers of leaving the Middle East to fester without trying to relaunch a two-state process.”

And it’s likely premature anyway for Obama to play a defining role by, say, attaching his name to a comprehensive plan that delineates borders and other terms of a final deal. On Sunday, a State Department spokeswoman called this week’s meetings “an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months,” suggesting that these talks will be mainly about more talks.

That should give Obama ample time to size up the situation and calculate how large a role he’s willing to assume — and how much political risk. “You know, politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside, just express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do,” Obama said in his March speech. “That would be the easiest political path.”

It would also be the wrong one, Obama argued. He may soon have his chance to surprise everyone and take the harder road. But many jaded observers of failed efforts at peace in the Holy Land won’t believe it until they see it.

MORE: Why the Middle East Peace Negotiations Are Worth It

23 comments
jmac
jmac

NY Times:  "Netanyahu Agrees to Free 104 Palestinians"     "A Palestinian official involved in the negotiations process, who could speak only on the condition of anonymity because OF THE DELICATE DIPLOMACY UNDER WAY . . . "

Why even write about some blankety-blank skeptic who wonders where Obama is?   In big print?  At the top of the page?  It's annoying.  Let's all work to help make it happen.  That includes our press.  

jmac
jmac

Washington Post:   "Kerry is not expected to insist on a true freeze in settlement building during talks, the condition once favored by his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Anyone in their right mind who doesn't think that's Obama speaking needs to quit his day job.  We all know that's Obama - the man who didn't let the Bush tax cuts expire, who didn't follow progressive economists on the size of the stimulus, who hasn't clamped down on regulations to keep the banks from taking us under again.  He's a compromiser.  

And in this case, it just might work.  

jmac
jmac

Kerry IS Obama.  He represents Obama.  Obama's doing the right thing keeping his mouth shut - Netanyahu would have to respond and then we'd be back at square one.   It's just like Republicans meeting behind closed doors.   They actually can get things done when the press and their leaders don't have to spew and spin  the rhetoric.  

What a ridiculous column.  

DonaldCallahanBryan
DonaldCallahanBryan

Wait... so the Nobel Peace Prize Winner tried it once and it didn't turn out to His liking, and He walks away ?

Wow.

thesanevoice
thesanevoice

So Kerry did all this in secret, without Obama's involvement?   How did this article even get published?  Wow, this is new low for Time!

cent-fan
cent-fan

Short Crowley:  "If we don't get a press release with a quote attributable to Obama or if I don't see him in a film clip on my laptop discussing the peace process while I'm sitting in the cyber café with all the other indomitable and elite members of the Washington Press Corp then it never happened."

By the way, there is no such thing as "political risk" in the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.  Anyone that gets involved but doesn't get peace will be shooting par.  Nobody around here is really listening anymore.

DoctaRonPaul
DoctaRonPaul

Maybe if everybody would just loosen up a little bit. and chiiiiiiiiil out little bit.  Everything would go smoothly. you know what I'm saying?

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

I'm sick of the whole game.  "Peace negotiations" means "how much aid do I have to give each of you to stop fighting for a while?".  "Aid" means 'how much equipment are we going to give you from our corporate welfare receivers like Northrup, Boeing, Lockheed, Halliburton, etc'.   Aid is very rarely dollars that they can spend as they want.  Can't feed your starving with helicopters but you can certainly keep your rebels at bay. 

Meanwhile, our own country suffers.

ShoshoneCreek
ShoshoneCreek

BS - Obama needs to focus on DOMESTIC issues for the remainder of his term!   US Imperialism has been a complete and utter failure.....it's time for the Chinese and Russians to step up on the middle east peace process.  

The US is a hollow super power....we have a huge military and a gutted economy standing behind it.  It's time for the Chinese to step up....heck, the Chinese now get more of the middle east oil than the US does.  The Chinese have captured 60% of the oil in Iraq now....because the US and Exxon refuse to abide by Iraqi environmental demands and fees.  


It's time Obama focus on Domestic issues.....loss of jobs, under funding of our cities, and way-way too much corporate power.


ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Where is Obama ? Like he always does. Golfing, vacationing, blaming other people for his mistakes and avoiding responsibility. Doing everything but work. He is also counting the days when he can retire from office and join Jayz and Beyonce. He is perhaps the laziest and worst President ever.

MrObvious
MrObvious

So what you're saying is that Kerry did all this on his own without any input from Obama including reporting back to the president.


Interesting.

destor23
destor23

Barack Obama's Secretary of State, chosen by Barack Obama and working under the direction of Barack Obama, has convinced Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations after three years.  But where is Barack Obama on this?  Mr. Crowley, since you're clearly on the scene, how are things looking in Absurdistan?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmac Of course he is right to keep his mouth shut. Like he does on so many things. Because if it fails, he can always blame others. He could say he never authorized Horsey Faced to negotiate without his go signal. Just like the economy. He acts and talks as if he was just a bystander. Like Dr Krauthammer observed. Or if everything fails there is always the old punching bag. George W. Bush. How observant and perceptive of you.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@thesanevoice Only way you can see the Fraud in an active role is when he sings in front of a mic, read a teleprompter, party with Beyonce and JayZ, blame others for his stupidity or blame Bush. Or lie.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@cent-fan 

I am thankful the media has such low credibility when I read dreck like this from Crowley.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@DoctaRonPaul I know what you are saying, Doctor. Just like the Fraud being cool and chill out a lot. No wonder this country is in a mess.

DoctaRonPaul
DoctaRonPaul

@notLostInSpace Yah I know what you mean notLostInSpace. Totally agree. Fortunately I AM lost in space a the present moment so yah.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@destor23 Most likely to happen Kerry and Obama will promise financial help to both to appear as if there is peace process. Probably both will agree but once given, will accuse each other again of breaking the truce. Then back to normal but again this time with the money from the greatest sucker country in the world. America.


PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@destor23 If "entertainment tonight" covered politics, they'd probably do a better job.