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September 22, 2009

Blogging the Israeli-Palestinian Photo-Op: Pressure Works
Posted by Joel Rubin

The Obama administration has reminded us, once again, that arm-twisting is essential to Middle East peacemaking.  It has been too long – nearly two years since the failed Annapolis conference – since we’ve even seen a photo of Israeli and Palestinian leaders together, smiling, shaking hands, and generally saying positive things about the need for peace.  Too bad we can’t see the American-made rash on their forearms.

It is clear that both the Israelis and Palestinians need their arms twisted.  Since the last time these two made nice for the cameras, we’ve had a major Israeli-Palestinian war over Gaza, a change of government in both Israel and the U.S., and increasing regional anxiety about Iran.  Not enough arm-twisting has taken place in between, certainly not by the predecessor Bush administration, which let this conflict simmer and stew on its own. 

Symbols matter in Middle East peacemaking, and this symbol is significant.  U.S. arm twisting doesn’t always make things immediately better, but U.S. disengagement always makes things worse.  Getting these two leaders together is a major accomplishment and both George Mitchell and the President deserve significant kudos for pulling it off. 

Netanyahu’s government is stable and Abbas isn’t going anywhere, so we should expect to see these two doing just about everything that one would expect from longtime foes, such as talking past each other, trading complaints, and occasionally preening together for the cameras.  We should also expect a strong American hand to keep them moving in the right direction towards a peace deal, which is in both their peoples’ interests and is supported strong majorities in each population.  If today’s photo-op proves anything, it is that when there’s American pressure, these two are able to move in the right direction.

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