Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Next For Obama: Palestine

President Mubarak announced a few moments ago that he would not be seeking reelection, telling the world what it already knew. What was more interesting about the announcement was the way it was foreshadowed by the actions of the American administration. Obama has decided that he wants to be part of what's next, clearly, but siding with the crowds against Mubarak right now is not exactly going bold.

If he really intends to capture the imaginations of the young people in the crowds, from Tunis to Amman, he will have to signal powerfully that he is intent on building a new Middle East with them and live up to the promise of his Cairo speech. This means making clear that he will not be toyed with by the Netanyahu government. Many will jump to the conclusion that the fall of Mubarak is proof that Netanyahu was right all along, that his neighborhood is tough and unstable. But the wisdom of the crowd is that the occupation of Palestine has been the toughest and most destabilizing reality in the neighborhood for the last 40 years.

It would be folly for Obama to move on the Palestinian issue if a peace deal were not capable of being envisioned. Obama should not dare to present a plan that is implausible just to pander to Egyptian protesters, and he will certainly not sacrifice Israel's essential security interests.  But what if a deal is not only possible but more or less worked out?

Readers of this blog know that I've been working on an article for the past 10 days based on exclusive recent interviews with Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. I won't say more about the achievement of their negotiations here; the article will be in the New York Times Magazine very soon.  What I will say is that these leaders left Obama small gaps to bridge; both still want to see the president bridge them. Obama does not have a great deal of time to digest what they negotiated, offer an American package based on their understandings, and rally the world to it. But if he proves courageous enough to do this while young people are full of passion and hope, he can, let us say, finally earn his peace prize.