Observing that "One of the hallmarks of the Arab Spring has been the emergence of a new and more modest American foreign policy," the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl writes:
The Obama administration has insisted on not taking the lead in promoting democratic change; it has declined to act unless not just the French and British but the Arab League go first. It still can’t bring itself to say that Bashar al-Assad, a dictator and implacable U.S. enemy who is using tanks and helicopter gunships to slaughter his people, is not qualified to lead Syria to democracy.
Yet there is one big exception: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On a Middle Eastern front that has remained mostly quiet in 2011, the position of the United States is: a) it possesses a detailed solution; b) action must be taken immediately; and c) it doesn’t matter whether the people concerned — Israelis and Palestinians — are agreeable or ready.
It’s probably not worth the effort to explain why the U.S. might have a different approach to Syria than to Israel (little leverage over the former, significantly more leverage over the latter), but I’m more interested in how, by arguing that "quiet" in Israeli-Palestinian front argues for ignoring it, Diehl unwittingly demonstrates a Catch-22 that has been created here: When the Palestinians engage in armed resistance and terrorism against the occupation, there’s no sense pushing peace negotiations because you can’t deal with terrorists. When the Palestinians crack down on terrorism and attempt to end the occupation through non-violent means, there’s no sense pushing peace negotiations because things aren’t blowing up and the U.S. has other problems to deal with. Until, of course, there is another eruption of violence, at which time there will be no sense in pushing peace negotiations because you can’t deal with terrorists. It’s a great formula for never solving the problem.
This isn’t to give the administration a pass on Syria, there’s more that they can and should be doing to pressure and isolate that regime. But Obama also deserves credit, not criticism, for refusing to buy into the idea that we can just stick the Israeli-Palestinian in a drawer and come back to it later when the outlook is more "promising."