Even Barack Obama can’t solve the Middle East problem – and he’d be foolish to try

From The Telegraph:

Middleeast_1215307c The smoke billowing over Gaza serves, among much else, as a bitter warning for Barack Obama. As Israel's onslaught on Hamas strongholds enters its second week, with key leaders of the radical Islamist movement now singled out as targets, the Holy Land is locked in a new spiral of conflict. Sewage from shattered mains runs in the streets of Gaza City, while tanks and infantry mass at the borders, preparing for a possible invasion. And the world's leaders are turning to the one man who they believe could break the cycle of retaliation and push Israel and the Palestinians into achieving a comprehensive peace agreement – President-Elect Obama.

With their love of acronyms, European diplomats pepper their documents with references to the “MEPP” – the Middle East Peace Process. They, and others, want the new president to place it first on his to-do list, to make this quest the number-one priority of his foreign policy. But look at the situation from Obama's point of view. The agony of Gaza, and of Israeli towns under attack from Palestinian rockets, drives home an uncomfortable truth: a viable peace agreement is almost certainly impossible, at least in the medium term. Safe in the knowledge that they will bear no responsibility for failure, European leaders can afford to urge Obama to pursue the “MEPP”. But why should the world's most powerful man waste effort on an enterprise that cannot succeed? Why should he risk almost certain failure?

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the British Ambassador to Washington, provided a more realistic forecast of Obama's likely approach in a detailed assessment of the next president, leaked to The Daily Telegraph last year. “The MEPP is unlikely to be a top priority for Obama,” wrote Sir Nigel. “But he would pursue it reasonably vigorously.” As he ponders the issues, Obama will doubtless reflect on the searing experience of the last Democrat in the White House. Bill Clinton made the quest for a Middle East settlement a central theme of his presidency. Yet after eight years of diplomatic effort, he was driven to a rare confession of powerlessness.

More here.