Obama can make peace, but mustn't force a final deal
If anyone in Jerusalem had hoped the Tea Party would save the settlers' party, they were seriously mistaken.
There were no real surprises in the U.S. midterm elections. The Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives but not the Senate, came out strong in Kentucky but not California, grabbed a majority of seats, but did not enjoy a overwhelming victory.
Barack Obama is still there. He's weakened but undefeated, bruised but not beaten - moderately wounded.
If anyone in Jerusalem had hoped the Tea Party would save the settlers' party, they were seriously mistaken. The 2010 midterm election time out is over. Today is the day after the elections, after the holidays, after the foreplay.
The real game begins now and the name of the game is Palestine. The endgame: establishing a viable Palestinian state within a year.
Why? Because the incumbent American president identifies with the Palestinians and their suffering and wants to do right by them. Because the American president believes establishing a Palestinian state would placate the Arab Muslim world, which he wishes to appease. Because the American president knows that in the absence of good news in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, Palestine is his only chance of making positive headlines.
Only a Palestinian state would justify the Nobel Peace prize he received, only it can give Obama the international legacy he craves, only it can lift the spirit of Obama's self-defined liberal camp.
So in 2011 Palestine will be to the resolute president what health care reform was to him in 2009. For better or worse, through fire or water, wisely or foolishly - Barack Hussein Obama will see to the establishment of the state of Palestine.
In a certain sense, the president's resolve is to be commended. It's good to have a world leader trying to save the two-state solution at the last moment. It's good to have a world leader willing to invest huge resources to implement the two-state solution. It's good to have statesman who still has a sufficient sense of justness to understand that the present situation is intolerable. It's good to have a statesman naive enough to think he can fix the world.
But in another sense Obama's determination is dangerous. Speed is from the devil, as the Arab saying goes. Simplism is a recipe for disaster. The path to hell is paved with good intentions not anchored in reality.
Bill Clinton tried to impose democracy on the Middle East and failed. If Obama tries to impose an end to the conflict prematurely, he will upset the stability, encourage violence and leave chaos in his wake.
The dilemma is acute: political correctness or political reason; puristic policy trying to build a castle in the sky or sober policy trying to change reality on the ground.
In actuality, the most positive process taking place in the region is Salam Fayyad's. A new, building, thriving Palestinian society is being formed in the West Bank.
Unless the Fayyad process is given a substantial political dimension, it will collapse. But it will also collapse if it is given an an unachievable political horizon. The wise thing to do is to tailor the quiet Palestinian revolution a political suit that fits it. Not to try to close the refugee case in two months, not to try to solve the Jerusalem problem in two weeks, not to let ideology and theology put impassable hurdles before the Palestinians and Israelis.
The only way is an interim agreement, which would minimize the occupation without ending the conflict and without endangering Israel.
The coming weeks will be decisive. Obama, even after losses at home, has enough power to coerce Israel. He can confront it, isolate it and impose a false peace on it.
But Obama does not have enough power to turn the fake into real. He cannot topple Hamas, revoke the demand for return and turn a Palestine into a peace-loving state. So if he insists on forcing the issue, all hell will break loose.
In contrast, if he chooses the pragmatic path - he has a good chance of making a change. Only a partial, not final, peace, will grant the Nobel laureate the peace he is pursuing.