Yesterday we got news that President Obama is on the brink of a deal to open peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. In a number of ways, things will be different this time around from the Clinton-initiated talks of the 1990s: the leaders are different, there's a new American president who's put some pressure on Israel to freeze settlements, Israel recently finished a war waged on the Gaza strip, and we're coming off eight quiet years of the Bush administration. But Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic thinks Obama's overtures to the Muslim world are more significant, even, than the settlements issue.
[Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] has now assumed Arafat's failed posture of righteous passivity, of waiting for the international community, or the United States, to deliver. Obama's great opening to the Muslim world, a strange blend of realism and multiculturalism, seems so far only to have imbued the Muslim world with the sense that in the cause of reconciliation with Israel it need exert itself no more, because it has at last been understood. I am not one of those Jews who are maddened by American "pressure" on Israel, but I do not take kindly to it when it is accompanied by a bow to the Saudi king.
Whether or not you agree with Wieseltier, he points to something that's been central to the administration's still-nascent foreign policy strategy: reaching out to the Muslim world and projecting cultural empathy, with an eye toward coalition-building efforts across the globe. It's not silly to suggest that will affect how Washington guides talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and while the "pressure" around settlements has dominated conversation about Obama and Israel, multiculturalism and outreach to Muslims has been the subtext...providing worry for the Israel hawks, and, I suspect, some degree of hope for the doves.
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