Tales from the Trail

Netanyahu on Obama ties: Under the bus? What bus?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to take the bait on Sunday when asked if he agreed with Republican presidential candidates that President Barack Obama is not pro-Israel enough.

He was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s recent comment that the Democratic president “threw Israel under the bus.”

“You are trying to throw me under the bus of American politics and, guess what, I’m not going to be thrown there,” Netanyahu joked.

The Israeli leader has had a strained relationship with Obama and in May criticized his vision of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders as leaving Israel “indefensible.”

Some of the Republicans hoping to challenge Obama in the November 2012 election, including front-runners Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry, have pounced on the issue and raced to proclaim their allegiance to the Jewish state.

George Mitchell returns to law firm after 2 years as Mideast envoy

George Mitchell says he doesn’t believe in retirement.

After two years focusing on Middle East peace for President Barack Obama, he returned Monday to the law firm DLA Piper as chairman emeritus.

In an interview with Leigh Jones of Reuters, Mitchell said Israelis and Palestinians have mutual interests. Palestinians won’t get statehood unless Israel gets security, and vice versa.

“If you can make sure the agreement has the central demand of each side, you can get an agreement,” he said.

Washington Extra – A glass half full, or half empty

hillary_middleastWell at least no-one walked out, as one Middle East veteran remarked to me after the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. In fact, as our chief blogger Toby Zakaria observed, the public atmospherics between the two men were not too bad.

Seventeen years ago, President Bill Clinton practically forced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to shake hands at the White House while observers held their collective breath. No such nudges were needed this week. Not only were there several, lingering handshakes, but even a brief animated conversation and a whispered aside.

But before we get carried away, my colleague Matt Spetalnick reminded us of all the obstacles facing the latest effort to forge peace in the Middle East. In decades of halting peace efforts, rarely has an Israeli-Palestinian peace process started with lower expectations. There were soaring words in public about the need for difficult compromises, but behind closed doors, the biggest tangible achievement was apparently an agreement to talk again.

Mideast peace veterans and handshake diplomacy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly referred to them as “veterans” of the Middle East peace process.

That description is probably one thing everyone can agree on. The process to bring Israelis and Palestinians to a lasting peace agreement has been going on for decades and every U.S. president hopes he’s the one who will finally achieve what those before him tried and failed. PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/

President Barack Obama is the latest to take up the baton. He’s already won the Nobel Peace Prize, but will he be The One to triumph on Middle East Peace?

Washington Extra -The audacity of hope?

If rescuing the U.S. economy from the Slough of Despond wasn’t enough, President Barack Obama took a stab at finding peace in the Middle East today. Obama is determined to forge a new relationship with the Muslim world, and presumably would like to unquestionably earn the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded last year.obama_middleast But getting embroiled in the Middle East is a risk for the president, not least because failure to reach an accord could set back his efforts to win over Muslims and achieve solidarity over Iran. Ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are not optimistic about this latest peace effort, and experts say the one-year deadline to reach a deal does not appear very realistic. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with Obama’s opening remarks today, and his hope that “extremists and rejectionists” should not be allowed to derail the peace process.

It is often interesting when high-ranking officials leave office and get the chance to unburden themselves. White House economist Christina Romer was no exception today, issuing an impassioned plea for more economic stimulus measures, even if they push up the fiscal deficit in the short term. “The only sure-fire ways for policymakers to substantially increase aggregate demand in the short run are for the government to spend more and tax less. In my view we should be moving forward on both fronts,” she said in a speech at the National Press Club. “I desperately hope that policymakers on both sides of the aisle will find a way to finish the job of economic recovery,” she added. WashingtonExtra won’t be holding its metaphorical breath.

Finally today, another win by a Tea Party favorite in Alaska this week underlines that the movement is not just a passing fad, and has the staying power to be  a significant factor in November’s Congressional elections. What’s more, Democratic hopes that radical Tea Party candidates will alienate moderate voters and energize Democrats are not being realized. In fact, Tea Party favorites are already ahead of Democratic rivals in the opinion polls in Colorado, Kentucky and Florida, and only slightly behind in Nevada.

Of diplomacy and baseball…

Timing is everything in diplomacy and baseball.

After months of prickly talks aimed at coaxing Israelis and Palestinians into direct peace talks, U.S. envoy George Mitchell finally had news to share.
MIDEAST/
But when the U.S. mediator par excellence took the stage for questions Friday at the State Department, reporters tossed him one out of left field.

“As tempted as I am to ask you about Roger Clemens…,” his first questioner began, to chortles from reporters and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Mitchell, of course, between peacemaking stints in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, took a stab back in 2007 at resolving the conflict between Congress and Major League Baseball over the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The First Draft: searching for peace

President Barack Obama meets with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the White House around 11 a.m. in the long-running quest for Middle East peace that has bedeviled American presidents for decades.

Mubarak is already out with his talking points, saying in media interviews that Arab states would recognize and normalize ties with Israel only after an overall Middle East peace deal is achieved, and not before. USA/

Obama then turns to Clinton vs. Clinton. He meets Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at 1:30 p.m. about her Africa trip, and then moves on to a meeting with Bill Clinton, the former president and current husband to the secretary of state, about his trip to North Korea.