Visitors to the West Wing are greeted by a series of ‘jumbos’ – giant photos of Barack Obama’s latest events and visits, carefully selected to show the power and personality of the US president.
There’s no doubting that his first trip to the Middle East in office – which concluded in the stunning surroundings of Petra at the weekend – will have generated some amazing images. But it will take some time to see if any results develop.
As someone who spent nearly five years travelling to the region, working for Tony Blair in his role as Quartet representative, it was fascinating to watch the statecraft before, during and after the visit.
But behind all the bonhomie for the cameras with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the US president still managed to deliver a very sharp message about the importance of getting moving with the Middle East peace process.
In his keynote speech to ‘the people of Israel’ – going for the Clinton–Blair tactic of reaching over the head of the deadlocked politicians to a wider audience – he combined a strong endorsement of Zionism with a powerful call for the justice and dignity of Palestinian statehood.
But what now? For too long both the Palestinian and Israeli politicians have been stuck in a narrative of: ‘I’m serious about peace, it’s just the other side isn’t.’
The fact is that there will only be a deal when the parties themselves want one, or feel enough heat from their people to achieve one. But that doesn’t mean simply crossing our fingers leaving them to it. Otherwise they would have got a deal already.
All analogies are flawed, but, as we saw in Northern Ireland, it requires intensive work, patience, creativity, time and ingenuity. If Obama’s trip is to bear fruit, the heavy-lifting will fall to someone who was a close student of that process, US secretary of state John Kerry, as well as one of its key participants, Tony Blair.
Now is the time to get negotiations started again and ensure we can take some new photos of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in security and peace, because, in the words of Obama, ‘the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realisation of an independent and viable Palestine.’