It has become President Obama’s custom in the last several years to include a word about Israel in his State of the Union address. In 2013, he promised that America “will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.” In 2014, with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks underway, he said the goal of American diplomacy was “to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel — a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.”
Last week, Obama spoke of Israel in the context of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program: “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies, including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”
As the president enters his last two years in office, he properly noted that Israel’s security is closely tied to a successful solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The fact that Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu appear to have very different views about how to achieve that solution doesn’t change the existential nature of the Iranian threat to the Jewish state.
It may well be that, unlike his recent predecessors, Obama will not attempt to make an Israeli-Palestinian accord his legacy. Indeed, Obama was not terribly enthusiastic about launching the last round of peace talks. And the fact that the talks collapsed isn’t likely to encourage the president to push harder.
Recent presidents have been drawn to making Mideast Peace part of their legacy. Until nearly his last day in office President Bill Clinton was pushing Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat toward an agreement. Late in his term, President George W. Bush announced that America supported the founding of a Palestinian state and convened the Annapolis Summit to work toward negotiations.
Unfortunately, the conflict hasn’t gone away. Israel’s war with Hamas was only last summer. While the issue of peace efforts didn’t make it into the State of the Union address, that doesn’t negate the need for some solution, nor does it diminish the value of active American engagement in those efforts.