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Sadder, Wiser Obama Lowers Expectations for Israel Trip

There will be no announcement of a grand peace plan when Presiden Obama visits Israel later this month, reports the Associated Press:

In his meeting Thursday, Mr. Obama said pursuing sweeping peace talks now would be premature, given that Israel is still working to form a new government. […]

In addition to his meetings with Netanyahu, Mr. Obama will hold talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He told the Jewish leaders Thursday that he would emphasize to Abbas that peace remains possible, though very difficult given the current climate in the region.

President Obama is right that the only lasting path to Israeli security is through a deal with the Palestinians. He is also right that more Israeli settlements don’t help the peace process. But the president now seems to have a deeper understanding of the region than he did four years ago when he and his team seemed to think that peace between Israelis and Palestinians was something the White House could deliver in order to support broader American goals in the region.

Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman all tried and failed to get a peaceful solution to the dispute. And from Henry Kissinger through Hillary Clinton, many US secretaries of state have done what they could. Barring miracles, the dispute won’t end on President Obama’s watch, either.

What the President can and should try to do is to limit the damage and the suffering on both sides and get some kind of diplomatic vehicle going that can begin to whittle away at the barriers to peace. He can find ways to help Israel and the PA boost the quality of life for West Bank Palestinians and ease the pressure from settlements. He can curb the influences from Tehran and Damascus that boost the most radical Palestinian factions. Above all, he can begin to explore ideas aimed at ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere stand to benefit from a peace agreement more than they do now. This cannot mean a right to return to lands and homes lost in 1948 but it has to mean something. A peace agreement which does not offer real recognition and hope to the vast majority of Palestinians is not going to work.

The President can’t lead the Israelis and the Palestinians into the promised land of peace, but if he is patient, cautious, flexible and determined, peace could be closer when he leaves the White House than it was when he first took the oath. We hope he finds a way.

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