from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

The President and the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process in 2013

January 26, 2012

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Over the course of the Obama administration, Washington’s objectives for Israeli-Palestinian peace have shifted dramatically. President Obama took office seeking to resolve the conflict within two years. Deeming it a “national security objective” and one of his highest priorities, he immediately appointed Senator George Mitchell his special Middle East envoy. Three years later, Mitchell is no longer in the position, and the president is no longer seeking to resolve the conflict.

In May of last year, the president lowered his sights, calling for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate on just two of the core final status peace issues—borders and security arrangements—while deferring talks on some other thorny issues, such as the final disposition of Jerusalem or the fate of the Palestinian refugees. Curiously, after articulating the basis for a borders-for-security deal rather than dispatch his envoy to the Middle East, the president effectively shelved the issue.

Frustrated with both Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and Palestinian president Abbas and consumed with other regional issues like Egypt, Libya, and the Arab uprisings, the Obama administration has downgraded the priority of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Indeed, the administration has shifted from conflict resolution to conflict management.

Once the president is sworn in on January 20, 2013, he will no doubt have to confront the question of how to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is probably safe to say that the century-old dispute will not have been resolved by then.

Whether he wants to or not, come next January, the president will be forced to make some decisions about how best to approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Will the president, regardless of who he is, renew Obama’s original pledge and try to resolve the conflict? Or will he instead seek simply to manage it? The context in which he tackles this question will no doubt be dramatically different given. I address these questions as part of CFR’s Campaign 2012, a series of video briefings on the top foreign policy issues debated in the run-up to the 2012 U.S. elections. Check out the video below (also available on YouTube here), and please post a response suggesting what you think are the challenges the president is likely to face.