There is little doubt that President Obama can deliver a memorable speech -- the kind that reminds us of why he won the Nobel Peace Prize -- as he did in Jerusalem last week about the need for peace. The big surprise on his trip to Israel and Jordan, which ended here on Saturday, is that he can also twist arms.
Mr. Obama’s success in persuading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to apologize to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, healing a rift between the countries, is the kind of person-to-person deal-making that has eluded him with intractable, conscienceless Republicans in Congress.
But Mr. Obama kept prodding Mr. Netanyahu, senior advisers said, raising the importance of a makeup phone call every day he was in Jerusalem. He also worked on Mr. Erdogan, a prickly politician with whom Mr. Obama has cultivated a relationship since entering office.
By the time they agreed to talk, Mr. Obama had fully embraced the role of Middle East mediator, warming up Mr. Erdogan before handing the phone to Mr. Netanyahu, who expressed regret for the deadly actions by Israeli commandos during a 2010 raid on a Turkish ship that was trying to breach a blockade of Gaza.
For Middle East analysts, the question is whether Mr. Obama will bring the same doggedness and personal involvement to pursuing the peace between Israelis and Palestinians that he so fervently extolled in his address to young Israelis on Thursday.
Negotiating an accord to end one of the world’s most intractable conflicts is very different from talking two antagonistic leaders into getting on the phone with each other. Diplomacy in the Middle East has stymied even presidents who were renowned for their tenacity and ability to bring together adversaries. Yet, unlike Republican zealots in Congress, many of the top players in any Mideast negotiation would likely show at least a modicum of rationality, which most sane people hold up as grounds for optimism.
The next step in the peace process, a senior administration official said, is to devise measures that both sides could take to restore trust and allow them to enter a negotiation. This could include the release of prisoners or an Israeli agreement to slow down settlement building, even if it does not stop altogether.
The reaction to Mr. Obama was so overwhelmingly positive that it raises the question of whether he should have gone to Israel earlier. There were plenty of reasons he did not: his first overture was to the Muslim world; and by 2012, he was preoccupied with re-election.
Can he use this newfound currency to get the Israelis to buy off on the world according to Obama — avoiding war with the mullahs and making peace with the Palestinians?
Much will depend on whether Mr. Obama can summon the same enthusiasm for getting Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas on the phone as he did with his last feuding couple. One thing is certain, however. Whether he succeeds or fails, Republicans at home will call him a failure because, after all, how important is peace in the Middle East when on the home front there is deficit spending and unsustainable entitlements to children, the elderly, and the unemployed?