Mr. Obama, Did You Pack These Bags Yourself?

Gershom Gorenberg

At the airport, before his takeoff for the Middle East, no one will ask Barack Obama if he packed his bags himself. It would be rude, and besides he has a full-time handler for that. He never has the lurching feeling as the cab leaves his house that he left the tickets on the kitchen table and a prescription in the medicine cabinet. Just writing those words, I finally understand the attraction of running for president.

He has, however, packed his political baggage himself. Mostly he’s done a good job – better, in fact, than one could expect.

First, he’s meeting with Palestinians as well as Israelis. At least according to the Palestinian side, Obama has put a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on his schedule for next Wednesday. When I wrote about his trip a couple of weeks ago, before the requisite leaks on the itinerary, I was afraid he’d decide it was politically inexpedient to make that stop, essential as it is. Symbolically, the Ramallah visit shows that he intends as president to talk to both Israelis and Palestinians, and that he’s serious about working for peace. Practically, it gives him the chance to see how Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad respond to tough questions about the compromises they’ll need to make.

It would have been easy to skip Ramallah for fearing of losing Jewish votes, especially in swing states like Florida. The common mistake among candidates is to believe the rightwing minority in the U.S. Jewish community that purports to speak for the community as a whole,

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Gaza: The Peace of the Clumsy

Gershom Gorenberg

Maybe there will be quiet in and around Gaza on Thursday morning. This is not something to bet your savings on, or even your lunch money. According to this report , a Palestinian official says – as long as he can’t be quoted by name – that the fix is in for a ceasefire, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says yes. Defense Minister Ehud Barak (whose politics appear to have moved rightward since 2000 even more quickly than Joe Lieberman’s) says there’s no agreement, nope, we’re just checking the details.

If it does happen, it will certainly be a positive development: people on both sides of the Gaza line will have a higher chance of getting through the day without being blown up. It will show that with the America gone AWOL from diplomacy, other actors are moving into the vacuum: Egypt mediating between Israel and Hamas; Turkey between Israel and Syria. It will prove again the sad principle that when all else fails, sometimes people are willing to try talking instead of shooting.

But it will also be worth examining the potential political impact in light of the latest poll by top Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki.

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