With respect, I differ. The President and his advisors not only have a Plan A. They are ready with a Plan B and a Plan C.
Obama put Plan A for a two-state Israel-Palestine outcome and general Arab-Islamic agreements to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israelis made clear, and let the press know they had made clear, that this was not acceptable. So Plan B is working groups with the Israelis while encouraging regional leaders, such as Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to maintain the call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Then there is Plan C. The Associated Press reported last week that the Obama Administration may set a deadline of the end of 2009 on talks with Iran if they are not producing result.
The immediate reading was that Washington might be siding with Tel Aviv on the need for an eventual showdown with Iran. The reality could be more nuanced: the Obama Administration may use Tehran’s uncompromising position to pull Arabs and Israelis together for a regional process including Israel-Palestine.
Although some claim that this Plan C will never work, since Arabs and Israelis have different fears with regards to Iran’s policies, others argue that it is the best path. "The administration has to find the best path," says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Is this the best path? Given the opportunities, yes. They may not produce success but they offer the best alternative available."
The key to full Arab participation may be Syria, which has recently been in talks with Iran on a possible common approach. Here George Mitchell, Obama's Middle East envoy and a legendary negotiator, comes into play. Washington's ploy may be for Mitchell talks in Damascus to open the doors both to a diminishing of Iran’s influence and Israeli-Syrian talks.
Because Israel wants to see the Iranian threat "dealt with" before any peace deals with the Arabs, this subtle move by the Obama Administration could bring success. Instead of Israel’s insistence on clearing Tehran's nuclear facilities, Washington can change the context of the Tehran issue by adding the more political yet still forthright policies of Arab states into a broad-based coalition against Tehran. This approach may be enough to allay Tel Aviv’s concerns.