Chances are that the current round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians will end without a final agreement, said President Barack Obama. “‘Obama told me that in all three of his main initiatives in the region—with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria—the odds of completing final treaties are less than fifty-fifty,” wrote Remnick. “‘On the other hand,’ he said, ‘in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn’t roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics. And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, What’s next?’” Obama also said, while discussing Iran, that “members of Congress are very attentive to what Israel says on its security issues.” The president promised to veto any Iran sanctions bill that reached his desk.
Obama expressed no regrets over his decision to back down from a strike on Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. “I am haunted by what’s happened,” said the president. “I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.” Obama also emphasized that the interests of Israel and the Sunni Arab states are “very closely aligned.” “What’s preventing them from entering into even an informal alliance with at least normalized diplomatic relations is not that their interests are profoundly in conflict but the Palestinian issue,” he explained, “as well as a long history of anti-Semitism that’s developed over the course of decades there, and anti-Arab sentiment that’s increased inside of Israel based on seeing buses being blown up. If you can start unwinding some of that, that creates a new equilibrium. And so I think each individual piece of the puzzle is meant to paint a picture in which conflicts and competition still exist in the region but that it is contained, it is expressed in ways that don’t exact such an enormous toll on the countries involved, and that allow us to work with functioning states to prevent extremists from emerging there.” The Times Of Israel