For much of the past six months, the Obama administration has engaged in quiet, behind the scenes diplomacy with Israel and the Palestinians to try to get peace talks between them back on track. This shift occurred after having spent much of 2009 putting public pressure on both of the parties to resolve the conflict. In response to this shift however, and despite Vice President Biden's nearly week-long goodwill tour to Israel, the Netanyahu Government announced new settlement starts in order to cover its right flank within its coalition. Though there are obvious policy differences between the Israeli government and the Obama administration, it does not change the urgency of reaching a peace agreement. Achieving a peace deal is a priority for America's national security leadership.
Yesterday's announcement by Israel to continue expanding settlements in East Jerusalem has demonstrated fragility of the situation there, which has direct implications for American national security interests in the region. America's national security interests are deeply intertwined in the Middle East. American national security leaders and experts agree that as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, the U.S. will lack the credibility it needs to ensure that its vital security interests in the region are achieved. This is why the Obama administration, as well as multiple predecessor Administrations from both parties, have made resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a core foreign policy priority.
A series of high-level meetings this week points up the interconnections in the Obama administration’s comprehensive strategy for the Middle East. The most high-profile of these meetings will take place between President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres, while Secretary Gates is in the Middle East meeting with Egyptian and Saudi leaders. The new approach rejects the neoconservative trope that the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad or Tehran or Damascus. There is no quick route to peace in the Middle East; the road goes through all of these places, but it ultimately begins and ends in Jerusalem.
Fewer than 50 days into his Presidency, Barack Obama has begun to set a different framework for how America deals with the Middle East. There is no question that today America’s choices and flexibility in the region are far greater than they were only 50 days ago.