Obama’s weakness to hinder peace effort?

Obama’s weakness to hinder peace effort?

There is legitimate concern (voiced, for example, by J Street head, Jeremy Ben-Ami) that a failure of the Obama administration to deliver on health care, not to mention other aspects of its domestic agenda, is going to hinder or prevent progress on peace between Israel and the Arab world. The notion is that a weakened Obama presidency will lack the credibility or energy to intervene robustly in moving the parties forward in the Middle East.

This may be true, but it should also be remembered that Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush 43 all made efforts toward peacemaking after their administrations started treading water. Carter even achieved a lasting measure of success (with the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty). Both Clinton and Bush 43 may be criticized for efforts that were too little, too late (a more valid criticism regarding Bush than Clinton), but both made high profile efforts—Clinton at Camp David II and Bush at Annapolis.

It is probably premature to think that the Obama presidency is going down in flames after a mere year in office. But it’s interesting that both Israel and the United States are suffering from deadlock as a result of their political systems.

In the case of the US, it’s the two houses of Congress, with the more democratic (both small d and, for now, upper-case Democratic) House of Representatives passing bills (e.g., on health care) which are blocked or eviscerated by the more patrician and less popularly elected Senate— where Alaska has the same two votes as populous California. And now, the need for a 51 vote majority in the Senate has been replaced by an almost impossible, filibuster-proof, 60 votes. Clearly, there’s a need for structural change here.

This is parallel with the structural problem in Israeli politics, where the country suffers from a dysfunctional electoral system — an extreme form of proportional representation that requires unstable multi-party governing coalitions and has reduced the two major parties, together, to fewer than half the votes in the most recent elections. A number of fixes have been suggested, including the possibility of electing at least some members to the Knesset on a geographic constituency basis rather than from a national party list. My favorite is the simplest: raising the threshold of votes needed for a party to get into the Knesset from the current two percent to four or five percent—eliminating most of the small interest group parties at a single blow.

By | 2010-01-28T16:10:00-05:00 January 28th, 2010|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I watched the entire State of the Union address. Unfortunately, neither the word Israel nor Palestine ever crossed the President’s lips. This is a worrying sign of diplomatic disengagement.

    Obama’s agenda is so rich (justifiably) that I can’t imagine him now pursuing Middle East peace. I don’t think he can afford more political enemies or risks.

    His recent Time interview sounded like a kiss goodbye to Netanyahu and Abbas. This is very bad for Israel.

    The J Street model – of bringing pressure on Washington – might not be the best one in these circumstances. Perhaps the model should be that of getting American Jews to tell Israel’s government that we’re sick and tired of its stonewalling on the peace process.

    How much longer can American Jews stay ‘loyal’ (whatever that means) to an Israel that prefers settlement construction to peace talks!!!


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