With the truce in the week-long Gaza war, Barack Obama is being prompted by right and left to re-engage and renew U.S. efforts to solve the core question of Middle East peace.
Before he gets reinvolved in peacemaking, our once-burned president should ask himself some hard questions.
Is real peace between Palestinians and Israelis even possible?
Is there any treaty that could be agreed to, or imposed, that would be acceptable to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, let alone to Hamas, which has emerged from its defiance of one of the most intensive bombardments of modern time with new prestige?
What are the obvious impediments to such a treaty?
First, Bibi Netanyahu, who has presided over the expansion of Israel settlements and joined Avigdor Lieberman, a supporter of ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs, in a coalition of the Israeli hard right.
Would Bibi agree to a treaty that required removal of scores of thousands of Israeli settlers from Judea and Samaria, when he opposed Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of a few thousand settlers from Gaza?
Would Bibi agree to Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine as well as Israel, a non-negotiable demand of Arab nations?
Could a Palestinian Authority that gives up all rights to Jerusalem survive?
A second roadblock is the correlation of forces in Washington.
Should Obama begin to pressure Israel to remove settlers from the West Bank and accept a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, he would ignite a firestorm among evangelical Christians, the Israeli Lobby, the neocons and a Congress that, not long ago, gave Bibi 29 standing ovations after he dressed-down Barack Obama right in the Oval Office.
Obama has acquired much political capital with his election victory, but not that much.
In a Bibi-Barack face-off over settlements and Jerusalem, with whom would ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Democrats looking to 2016 stand? As for the Republicans, we already know. Their policy on Israel: "No daylight between us," and, "We've got your back."
A third impediment is the altered environment between Israel and a newly radicalized Middle East.
Israel now looks north to a Lebanon where Hezbollah possesses more and better rockets than the metal-shop jobs Hamas fired off. Beyond lies a powerful Turkey whose prime minister just declared Israel a "terrorist" state.
To the northeast lies Syria, where the 40-year truce on the Golan is unlikely to last after Bashar al-Assad falls and is replaced by a Sunni regime rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood, or becomes a failed state saturated with jihadists and loose chemical weapons.
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