I'm sure most of you are "shocked, shocked" to hear that the Israeli government rejected U.S. requests that it extend the so-called freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Never mind that it wasn't a real freeze (i.e., it didn't stop existing projects or the expulsion of more Palestinians from East Jerusalem, etc.); the partial halt in new authorizations did have a certain symbolic value. By refusing to extend it, the Netanyahu government has shown that it cares more about continuing the 43-years-and-counting process of colonization than it does about achieving a final peace deal.
At this point, Obama's Middle East team will try to come up with some sort of face-saving maneuver to keep the negotiations alive. Translated: they need a fig leaf to conceal how badly they've bungled this issue. Because putting serious pressure on Israel is anathema (especially in an election year), they will have to get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stay at the table even as construction resumes, so that he can watch the bulldozers make a "viable state" impossible while the talk, talk, talk continues. They may succeed in keeping the charade going, but it will be a pyrrhic victory that changes nothing....
If I were President Obama (and you can all be glad I'm not), I'd call my entire Middle East team into the Oval office for a little chat. Here's what I'd say:
"I made a promise to the American people, and to the world, that we would achieve 'two states for two peoples' during my first term. When I was in Cairo more than a year ago, I said this goal was in "America's interest, Israel's interest, the Palestinians' interest, and the world's interest." And I meant it. I trusted each of you to help me bring that goal about, and I've taken your advice for over twenty months. Let me be clear: it isn't working, and I'm not one who is satisfied with failure. Nor am I going to reward it. So I am telling each of you now: If you can't help me get this deal done within one year, I'm going to fire every one of you and get some new faces in here."
Fanciful? Of course it is, because the same political forces that make it nearly impossible for Obama to do the right thing would make it equally difficult for him to appoint a better team. But it's hardly more fanciful than thinking the United States can keep repeating the same mistakes and get a different result.