The passage of the health reform bill has reversed perceptions of President Barack Obama’s weakness. He is now master of his own house and can perhaps out-achieve Lyndon Johnson’s and even Franklin Roosevelt’s agenda of domestic reforms. Foreign policy can also purr ahead. Very soon there will be a major nuclear arms accord with Russia, but one whose ratification would have quickly been bogged down in the senate had the president failed to muster the votes to approve healthcare. It gives him more room to manoeuvre and compromise with Iran, North Korea and the Taliban.
Above all, it should give him the muscle to push the Israelis to deal productively with the Palestinians. This is a Sisyphean task that has defeated all his predecessors. Since the misconceived Balfour Declaration that gave the Jews a homeland right bang in the middle of someone else’s, peace has been negotiated to death. The British tried again and again to clear up their mess and in the end ran away, literally depositing the keys of the administration building in an early morning stop on the doorstep of the UN mission.
It has consumed many strong politicians. Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger (who only managed to achieve some modest changes), James Baker, who was secretary of state for George HW Bush and tried to browbeat the Israelis into change, and Bill Clinton, who at the end of his presidency tried to force Yasser Arafat to agree to a deal that would have deprived the exiled Palestinians of the right to return to their confiscated property. If Arafat had agreed, he wouldn’t have survived a week as leader. Clinton then compounded his error by spinning a gullible American and foreign press into portraying Arafat as a saboteur. Only President Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security adviser, made substantial progress when they midwifed the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt—in return for recognising Israel and pledging not to use violence against Israel, Egypt received the conquered territory of the Sinai peninsula.
Can Obama make a new peace…