What Is Wexler Thinking?

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8:54 am

By all accounts, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) loves Congress. “I have a dream job, a job I love,” he said in January, attempting to quash rumors that he’d join an Obama administration he worked hard to elect. Those rumors resurfaced yesterday when it became known that he’s resigning his seat. But Wexler won’t, apparently, take an administration position. He’s told colleagues he’ll be director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, a Washington think tank focusing on the Arab-Israeli peace issues that Wexler worked on in Congress. Why?

The move perplexes Mideast-peace watchers. Wexler is young — he was born in 1961 — a favorite of progressives, and not in any electoral danger. Laura Rozen reports that he has children he needs to put through school, and the Center was founded by a Slim-Fast tycoon. But it still seems like a strange choice: it’s described as a shell of its former self, and doesn’t have much policy influence.

Still, some peace-process observers are theorizing that Wexler, with his strong ties to both the Jewish community, the Israelis and the Obama administration, might be part of an inside-outside game by the administration. Wexler, who earlier this month implored the Obama administration to spend more time reaching out to an Israeli public that is quickly souring on him for demanding a settlement freeze in the West Bank, might be able to vouch for Obama to the Israelis and pass messages as a back channel. The Center’s strategic adviser is Avi Gil, a longtime adviser to Israeli President Shimon Peres. And with Wexler’s ability to raise money and solid connections to Israel, the theory goes, he’s well-positioned to help Obama with a constituency the president will need for his peacemaking efforts that’s slipping away. “Wexler’s a great guy to make the case to the Israelis about why an Obama led peace effort is good for them,” said one Israel lobbyist who preferred not to speak on the record ahead of Wexler’s 10 a.m. Florida press conference. Could the Center be a platform for that effort? “I’m sure they could,” as its remaining staffers are “very well-connected.”

Still, that’s just a theory. There hasn’t been a hint of a scandal so far, but the day’s very young.

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