As Obama prepares to visit Israel and Palestine, the region faces astounding obstacles to a lasting solution.
As President Obama prepares to visit Israel and Palestine later this month, he's facing a set of political and diplomatic impasses that seem virtually insurmountable. Israel and the Palestinians have never been further apart on final-status issues since formal negotiations began more than 20 years ago. Hamas and Fatah appear hopelessly deadlocked on everything from elections and a possible "unity" government to the bigger picture issues of the nature of Palestinian society, relations with the West, to what national liberation would look like and how it should be achieved.
Within those groups there's also significant factional infighting and a sense that domestic political power and national policy -- including the very concept of a two-state solution -- are at stake. Recent strikes and demonstrations against the Palestinian government about economic grievances and violent protests against Israeli treatment of prisoners have also erupted in the region.
Among Israelis there is a marked lack of consensus about social policies, settlements, the feasibility of the two-state solution, and need for, or even desirability, of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. And while Israel continues to enjoy a special relationship with the United States, strains between Obama and Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, strains that began over the settlement-freeze issue, haven't really abated. Washington's relationship with the Palestinian leadership has also been under serious pressure over both American disapproval of Palestinian diplomatic moves at the United Nations and Palestinian frustration with the American inability to shift Israel on settlements.