Given American (and European) refusal to directly deploy the considerable leverage at their disposal to push Israel to de-occupation, it is better if the President not insist on the immediate resumption of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israeli impunity and maximalism combined with the asymmetry between the parties – exacerbated rather than mitigated by U.S. policy – guarantees that renewed direct negotiations will do more harm than good, further convincing the respective publics that a deal is impossible. No wonder Naftali Bennet (and Hamas) see no threat in further negotiations, even with Minister Livni at the helm.
What then is left for a visiting President to do? Some cling to the notion that more American assurances and carrots will encourage Israel on the road to peace. That is farcical. The juiciest economic, military and diplomatic carrots have already been conferred on Israel irrespective of its entrenchment of occupation or violations of international law. No American carrot will induce Naftali Bennett or Uri Ariel, or Netanyahu and his faction of annexationists to abandon the settlements. So if the President is unwilling to change the rules of the game, better that he go with the flow, that he embrace and own the primacy of the political in this relationship. He can dust-off and re-tool part of the Clinton playbook of the 1990’s for engineering Israeli politics.
And that is probably what Obama’s visit should and in fact may start to do. By speaking directly to Israelis, including at an especially convened event in Jerusalem, Obama is doing something he avoided in his first term: He is accumulating some personal credit in the bank with the Israeli public. He should be looking to create an opportunity during his second term to draw on that deposit by building toward a clear moment of decision for Israel on the terms of reference for a two-state deal, notably a territorial resolution based on the 1967 lines with equal and minimal land swaps.