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.

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.
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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.

U.S. lawmakers wonder, where did our love go? with Turkey

It almost sounded as if U.S. lawmakers felt jilted by Washington’s long-time NATO ally Turkey.

“How do we get Turkey back?” demanded Representative Gary Ackerman at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing exploring “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction.”

“Why is Turkish public opinion … perhaps one of the most anti-American of any of the countries of the world?” asked the committee’s chairman, Representative Howard Berman.

No “no” is final, U.S. mideast peace envoy says

President Barack Obama’s mideast peace envoy George Mitchell is an unlikely optimist.

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Ten months into an assignment that has confounded generations of U.S. diplomats, Mitchell said on Wednesday he remained upbeat about bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks — thanks in part to his experience resolving another once-intractable crisis, the dispute between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Mitchell, credited with shaping the 1998 Good Friday Accord that ended that long and bloody conflict, said the key was not to lose heart.

Obama brings out the “American” in Nobel laureate

Nobel peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari is a former Finnish president but, after looking at President Barack Obama’s speech in Turkey, he said: “I nearly felt it’s good to be an American.”

Speaking after lunch at the National Press Club in Washington, the 71-year-old winner of the 2008 prize was asked on Tuesday to assess the U.S. leader’s call for peace and dialogue with Islam.NOBEL-PEACE/

“I must say that I’m proud as a transatlanticist and democrat to see that sort of speech is made,” he told reporters.

The First Draft: Tuesday, Jan. 6

MALAYSIA

On a dark and drippy Washington morning, President-elect Barack Obama meets with his economic advisers to discuss the 2010 budget.

At the White House, President George W. Bush will create the biggest protected marine area on the planet, a trio of national monuments in the Pacific.

The new U.S. Congress convenes today, with clouds hanging over two Democrats: Roland Burris of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota.

Hamas unendorses Obama after speech to pro-Israel lobby

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have taken care of his Hamas problem on Wednesday with a speech to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby.
 
The Illinois senator was ridiculed, criticized and generally harassed back in April when a top Hamas adviser, Ahmed Yousef, told a radio interviewer that the Palestinian militant group — considered a terrorist organization rtx6iml.jpgby the U.S. government — liked Obama and hoped he would win the U.S. presidential election.

Yousef’s remarks were labeled a Hamas endorsement and Republican John McCain used them as part of a fundraising appeal to supporters. Obama’s denunciations of Hamas and criticism of McCain over the incident did little to undo the damage.
 
That may have changed Wednesday, when Obama went before American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington a day after clinching the Democratic nomination and declared his strong support for Israel.
 
Israel’s security is sacrosanct and it must retain a qualitative military advantage, Obama said. Any peace deal must include Palestinian recognition that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s undivided capital, he said.
 
Hamas promply unendorsed Obama, a Christian who has had difficulty dispelling a rumor campaign suggesting he is a Muslim and that his advisers have a pro-Arab bent.
 
“Obama’s comments have confirmed that there will be no change in the U.S. administration’s foreign policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters in Gaza.
 
“The Democratic and Republican parties support totally the Israeli occupation at the expense of the interests and rights of Arabs and Palestinians,” he said.
 
“Hamas does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win,” Zuhri said.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

 Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama speaks at AIPAC conference)