So the news is breaking that a ceasefire has been announced in the Israeli-Gaza conflict. It forced Obama to get more involved in the region; he sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help broker a halt to the battle. But the latest fighting — and the need for the Obama administration to invest time in it — poses a broader question: Should the president get more engaged in the peace process in a general sense?
This is not a strong topic for me, so I’m turning the mike over to Princeton’s Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.N. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005. Kurtzer says the hostilities show the time has come for Obama to lean harder into involvement in a long term peace effort.
“The United States had to come back in a firefighting role,” Kurtzer said, adding that the ceasefire was “an accomplishment but it’s putting out another fire. You’re just waiting until something else combusts.”
“Burning up the president’s time on these short term fixes is a waste of his time,” added Kurtzer, whose book, “Pathways to Peace,” lays out prescriptions for resolving the conflict. “As much time as it would take if we tried for the bigger bang, it’s going to be worth it. He’d have a large policy focus that would buy him something in the Arab world.”
Kurtzer added that heavier engagement would require more than just restarting talks — it would require developing an actual policy. The administration will say that it’s goal right now is to get back to negotiations, Kurtzer says, but that’s “not a policy, that’s a process.”
“We have to push both sides more — this is not a prescription for pressure on one or the other side,” Kurtzer added. “We need a policy that includes negotiations; includes bringing in the Arab world; includes intensified state building with Palestinians; and includes implementation of the Road Map. There’s a lot to do that we haven’t done for more than 10 years. This requires somebody to be told by the President, `I want you to do this.’”
Heavier engagement by Obama, of course, carries major risks — he’d risk squandering political capital at a time when the administration is consumed with many other challenges. The alternative, though, is putting out fires for four more years.
“I still think this president has it in his head that this is something he wants to do,” said Kurtzer, “But everybody around him is telling him it’s a loser. The question is, Will the president take from this the need to reengage in something that all of his advisers say is a loser?”