President Obama is headed to the Holy Land this week, but 72 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders are not optimistic he can bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table anytime soon.
"Sure, Obama can do that ... right after he parts the Red Sea," one Insider quipped.
Obama's sweeping remarks to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009 promised to pursue peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians as a top priority. One year later, U.S.-brokered peace talks fell apart: Israel continued construction in the West Bank over Washington's objections as Palestinians refused to negotiate while settlements were being built.
With Obama headed to Israel for the first time as U.S. president, Insiders were skeptical of the success of any renewed peace push. "President Obama demonstrated his inability to manage the complexities of this problem during his first term," one said. "After two years of effort, he and [former Sen. George Mitchell] succeeded only in pulling the parties farther apart rather than together."
Others blamed Obama less for the quagmire. "Since 1997, the Department of State has designated Hamas [which controls Gaza] as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Obama is unlikely to change this anytime soon, and so he cannot bring it to the negotiating table," one Insider said. "West Bank Palestinian leadership remains weak, and it cannot speak for those in Gaza. Thus, at present, meaningful negotiations involving leaders of all Palestinians are not possible."
Another added: "The independent variable is Israel. The Netanyahu government, even in formulation, has no interest in such talks and survives politically through fear."
With "almost no chance" of negotiations happening, one Insider said, "if the president has any political capital to spend on this issue, it will focus on Syria and/or Iran."
A 28 percent faction of Insiders were more confident that Obama could bring the two sides together—but no experts voiced any confidence that such meetings would yield a peace deal during Obama's term. "You've heard about bringing the horse to water? Getting them to the table won't make them drink," one Insider said.
"It's certainly possible the president could bring the two sides to the negotiating table, but the prospects for success are limited given each side's ideology and their historical unwillingness to compromise," another Insider added. "I'm not holding my breath."
Separately, 91 percent of Insiders said the U.S. will not find a way to prevent China and other agents from hacking American companies while Obama is in office. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon last week called for China to cease hacking and engage in a dialogue on cybersecurity standards. "So long as the U.S. is engaged in offensive cyberoperations (and it is big time), there is no incentive for the Chinese or anybody else to come to the table," one Insider said. Another said the U.S. lost the "moral high ground" when it joined with Israel to launch the Stuxnet worm to cripple Iran's nuclear facilities. "Thus it has little grounds to complain about China's cyberpilfering."
The hacking of U.S. public and private entities will continue to occur regardless of who is president—and no matter what technical safeguards are built in an effort to thwart hackers, one Insider said. "The effects of hacking can, however, be reduced if companies invest in the latest data-encryption technologies and the U.S. develops a deterrent strategy in cyberspace. The U.S. must also pass legislation mandating minimum evolving cybersecurity standards, an unlikely prospect given the current status of such legislation."
This is a problem that cries out for action by Congress, another Insider said. "The problem is not President Obama, but rather the reluctance of everyone involved—in government and in the targeted companies—to acknowledge what is happening."
1. Can President Obama bring Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table?
- No 72%
- Yes 28%
"Bringing two parties to the negotiating table requires a willingness on the part of both parties to sit down together. While both sides believe they have fulfilled their self-defined obligations to sit down together, neither has defined them so that a common interest has emerged that is attractive enough for a discussion to begin. Obama's challenge is to help them find that common interest."
"The Obama administration does not have the clout or carry the carrot or stick of previous administrations to broker a credible peace [in] the Middle East."
"Neither side is ready for genuine compromise. Neither side accepts the legitimacy of the other."
"With a full plate already, there is no need for an execise in futility."
"None of the essential groundwork has been done."
"Not for serious, fruitful discussions."
"He is lacking in skills and in domestic political courage."
"The domestic Israel lobby has Obama's hands tied so tightly that he can't pressure the Israelis or play the role of honest broker."
"We can't want peace more than they do. Given the impasse over Israeli settlements, an agreement in the near future is unlikely."
"This is a serious question: Given all of the foreign policy challenges with direct U.S. equities, why should he try?"
"Only if they get to bring their guns to the table. Bibi will never cede to Obama unless it suddenly becomes to his advantage."
"Wanna buy a bridge? It's possible he'll get them to the table, but hugely unlikely anything fruitful can happen there. Obama, like any U.S. president, has no room to maneuver on this issue because of U.S. domestic politics and the power of the Israel lobby. We should stop pretending to be a referee in this game, at least while we're still wearing a uniform of one of the teams."
"To the table, yes. To any kind of a lasting peace, no."
"Sure, they'll come, just as parties to Middle East peace processes always show up. Results will undoubtedly be the same too."
"You've heard about bringing the horse to water? Getting them to the table won't make them drink."
"It's certainly possible the president could bring the two sides to the negotiating table, but the prospects for success are limited given each side's ideology and their historical unwillingness to compromise. I'm not holding my breath."
2. Will the U.S. find a way to prevent China and other agents from hacking American companies while Obama is in office?
- No 91%
- Yes 9%
"We have neglected this growing threat and not invested in real cybersecurity; we're so far behind the curve to respond effectively."
"Increased Western condemnation may deter some hacking, but cyber is an ideal asymmetric tool for China to gain strategic and economic advantage. Since China holds a billion dollars in U.S. Treasury bonds, the U.S. cannot take drastic action. There is an intermediate option, akin to the Magnitsky Act. The U.S. could deny visas and use of the U.S. banking system to Chinese officials deemed to be involved in state-sponsored hacking. This leverage will be modest, but the fact of sanctions would embarrass the Chinese."
"This is really not simple hacking; it's state-sponsored commercial espionage. U.S. policy toward China is too complicated and still-evolving to support any direct confrontation over this or many other issues."
"This isn't a problem unique to the Obama administration. Cyberwarfare is going to become increasingly more pervasive, with the United States always playing catch-up in this asymmetric warfare game."
"Until we have created the legal and doctrinal framework to attribute and respond, this will be a pick-up game. There are no consequences associated with their actions, and we continue to play a virtual cat and mouse game."
"This is a long-term problem; there are no quick or easy solutions."
"Some minor protocol may be arrived at, but the hacking monster will remain far from tamed."
"But a firm reaction that makes this a public debate puts the issue front and center, and that's the correct first step in an effort that will take decades to address."
"It will take a long time, and more than rhetoric is required. There have to be consequences for Chinese actions."
"The Chinese state respects focused intent and follow-through. Under this—or perhaps any—president, we will hesitate to put the blade in."
"China should stop hacking as soon as the U.S. stops. I'm not holding my breath."
"The cybersecurity of our nation's private companies will never be achieved through solely a federal government effort. The federal government can create the public-private partnerships to develop better protected practices and do a much better job of sharing threat data, but at the end of the day, the security of a network is the responsibility of the owner, just as putting alarms and security procedures at a factory is the responsibility of the factory owner. Also, while state-sponsored cyberespionage is always going to occur, the average corporation has a far better chance of being impacted by a cybercriminal or a cyberhooligan than a cyberspy. Focusing on China and other state sponsors may be good from a talking-points angle, but the reality is they are really just one part of this enormously complicated challenge."
"Short of sanctions against the Chinese government—which are almost unthinkable—publicizing its hacking will just drive it to find more surreptitious methods."
"You might as well try to sweep back the ocean with a broom."
"China's technological advances are based on IP banditry, not indigenous innovation. They will throttle back until the administration gets distracted and then be right back at it."
"This will remain a very sticky issue, as China has no real incentive to stop doing it. Nasty memos and foot stomping on our part are insufficient. Frankly, we need to attack them and cause sufficient pain [to get them] to back off."
"It also won't find a way to prevent crime, poverty, or hopelessness."
"China's new leadership has very little incentive to make that kind of agreement."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the March 19, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.