An optimistic – perhaps naïve – young president kicked off his first term by announcing with great White House fanfare his first week in office a priority on reaching the holy grail of US diplomacy: a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians. Don’t expect a similar initiative week one of Term 2.
The Obama administration is already promising punitive measures against the Palestinians if President Mahmoud Abbas sticks with his plan to seek enhanced status for “Palestine” through the United Nations General Assembly in late November. Besides that, an Israeli election campaign that culminates with voting Jan. 22, the day after Obama’s inauguration, is hardly the moment for a peace-process initiative.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to win those elections. But a renewed mandate for the Israeli leader, far from opening the way to negotiations with the Palestinians, is more frequently seen as providing a mandate for Mr. Netanyahu to launch air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities later in the year if he deems it necessary.
If, as expected, the Israeli leader is triumphant in elections, Netanyahu and Obama – who haven’t had the smoothest of relations – are likely to face new tensions in their relationship. And US-Israel relations, which both leaders insist are unbreakable, could be in for a severe test about what to do with Iran.