President Obama is experiencing something of a shellacking in the realm of foreign policy these days. As the Washington Post put it (a bit over-dramatically), in an article called “Foreign policy setbacks deepen Obama’s wounds,”
From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control agreement with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency.
Then there’s the Middle East, where the president has all he can do just to postpone the breakdown of nominal peace talks for three months. The prospect of such further talks seemed to end when Israel resumed construction in West Bank settlements following a lengthy moratorium in which no progress towards peace occurred.
However, the administration persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, through various “incentives,” to present to his cabinet an agreement to postpone settlement construction in the West Bank for three months while the U.S. attempts to jump start negotiations between Israel and the PA. Unfortunately for Obama, though, the Shas party – a small portion of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition – is in a position to block this deal with the U.S. And it intends to do so unless the U.S. explicitly confirms in writing that building throughout Jerusalem will be permitted during the freeze.
The problem for Obama is that the PA has said it will not hold direct talks with Israel until Jewish building has stopped both in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem. Thus, Obama may find it impossible to “get to yes” with Shas (and therefore Israel) and the PA both.
In reality, that’s no great setback – getting to “yes” now would likely only mean getting to “no” in a few months. But being shot down by Isarel’s tiny Shas party is not exactly what the doctor ordered for Obama just now.