Obama golfs with Bill Clinton, spurring interest from Mideast watchers

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Middle East watchers were seized with the news that President Barack Obama was playing golf on Sunday with former President Bill Clinton.

“Pleeeeze offer him role of Mideast Envoy? Pleeeeeze?,” Israeli lawyer and anti-settlements expert Daniel Seidemann wrote on Twitter, in response to a post noting Bill Clinton was among Obama’s golfing companions Sunday.

President Obama “is golfing with former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Virginian gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, according to the White House press office,” White House pool reporter Eric Wasson of The Hill wrote in a pool report Sunday sent to other reporters covering the administration.

“I’m sure 42 will have advice to share on the #MidEast Peace Process,” William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy at the Jewish Federation of North America, commented on the golf outing of Presidents 42 and 44, reported to have grown closer during Obama’s reelection campaign.

Middle East peace activists have long fantasized about Obama enlisting the popular former President to try to advance the stalled Middle East peace process. (“Bill Clinton is the only guy I can think of who is trusted and liked by all sides,” veteran US foreign policy watcher Steve Clemons told this reporter two years ago. “Employ Bill Clinton as peace envoy,” Bernard Avishai, writing at the Daily Beast, urged anew this month.)

But until recently, with the imminent departure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and the key role Bill Clinton played helping Obama’s reelection campaign, the prospects of such an appointment seemed entirely unlikely. Even now, as yet, there is little sign the Obama administration seems inclined to wade back into a big new Israeli-Palestinian peace push, certainly not before Israeli elections next month. The biggest obstacle: the Israelis and the Palestinians don’t seem to want it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, angry over the United Nations vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status last week, lashed out at the Palestinian entity Sunday, as Israel announced new settlement building plans and that it was withholding $100 million in tax payments to the PA. “The Palestinians want to use the peace process in order to bring about the end of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu charged Sunday.

Given the obstacles the Israeli and Palestinian parties have thrown up to returning to the peace table, “the ultimate question is what does America do,” former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-Florida), a close ally of the Obama White House on Middle East and Jewish affairs, told the Back Channel in an interview last week. Continue reading

Netanyahu calls Israel elections


As widely anticipated, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced early elections. Citing the Knesset’s stalemate over passing a budget, Netanyahu said elections should be held as soon as possible.

Israeli media reports said that could be as early as late January or February.

Netanyahu also said that stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb would be his key priority in a second term.

The Likud prime minister is in a strong position to bolster his position in the elections, although his ruling coalition could be shaken up.

Israeli television reports speculated on two possible challengers: former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, or former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, both of the Likud  break-away Kadima party. Olmert was recently exonerated of corruption charges.

(Photo: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem October 9, 2012. Netanyahu announced on Tuesday he would seek an early Israeli election, expected to be held in January or February. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.)