Scott McLeod at Time sums up the key battle, as I understand it, over who (Dennis Ross vs. Dan Kurtzer) will get the Israel-Palestinian (and possibly -Arab) portfolio in the Obama administration and the case against Ross in his Dec 23 blog post here. (He fails to mention the possible candidacy of Brookings’ Martin Indyk.) I would add that, since he left the Clinton administration, Ross appears to me to have become, if anything, more one-sided in his identification with Israel and his view that Palestinians are not ready for self-determination.
In that regard, Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, published a very important article in the Council’s Foreign Affairs journal this past week, entitled “Change They Can Believe In: To Make Israel Safe, Give Palestinians Their Due,” in which he argues, among other things, that there is a certain “moral equivalence” (my words, not his) between the Israelis and Palestinians — an assertion that no doubt provokes all kinds of contempt and righteous indignation among neo-conservatives whose zeal for “moral clarity” rests on the morally unquestionably “exceptional” nature of both the United States and Israel.
Also worth a look for prospects of promoting the Israeli-Palestinian track is the op-ed that appeared in Friday’s Washington Post by the former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to the U.S. from 2005 to 2007, Prince Turki al-Faisal. It re-iterates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to its 2002 peace plan with Israel, now known as the Arab League peace initiative. While key details go unaddressed in the piece, its suggestion that Washington should back Israeli-Syrian peace talks suggests that Riyadh is open to a reconciliation with Damascus and sees that track as critical both to bringing Hamas into a peace accord and in ushering in a new security regime in the region as a whole.
Whether these various straws might add up to a major Obama diplomatic initiative after Jan 20 remains to be seen, of course. If Ross gets the post, I wouldn’t think so. And suggestions in a New York Times report earlier this week that Clinton hopes to assert control over the work of special envoys to the region is particularly worrisome given her senatorial history of pandering to AIPAC and the uncertainty that such a situation would create among their foreign interlocutors regarding the envoys’ access to the White House and Obama himself. But all of this remains speculation given the amazingly few details that have been leaked to the press about the internal deliberations of the president-elect’s foreign-policy team.