• With: Bret Stephens, Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel, Jason Riley

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 23, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's Middle East mission. He is calling for renewed peace efforts in the area, but as the Iranian threats continue and the Syrian conflict escalates with claims of chemical weapons, will it make a difference?

    Plus, the president courts controversy here at home with his pick to head the Labor Department. Did Thomas Perez interfere with a Supreme Court case that could have discredited his theories on race discrimination?

    And New York's mayor strikes again. Will his latest effort to hide cigarettes meet the same fate as his big soda ban?


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes, it is possible.


    OBAMA: It is possible.

    I'm not saying it's guaranteed. I can't even say that it is more likely than not, but it is possible.


    GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    That's President Obama in Jerusalem Thursday, raising the prospects of peace in the Middle East and urging Israelis and Palestinians to return to long-stalled negotiations. The trip, Mr. Obama's first as president, saw a thawing of his often frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But did it mark a turning point in what has become the tide of war in the region?

    Let's ask "Wall Street Journal" deputy editorial page editor, Dan Henninger; and "Global View" columnist, Bret Stephens.

    So, Bret, the big news out of this, or at least at the surface, a new good feeling between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. Real or does it makes a difference?

    BRET STEPHENS, "GLOBAL VIEW" COLUMNIST: Maybe real, and might make a difference. It's definitely as good in terms of the optics.

    Look, President Obama spent the first four years trying to put as much distance between himself and the Israelis or at least the Israeli government as he could. It didn't serve American foreign policy interests or anyone's interests. Now he's there to talk about my friend B.B. Maybe it's not sincere, but at least it's creating a perception of greater closeness. That's a good thing. Israelis respond better when they're being held than when they're being scolded. No question, the speech went over well. The real question is whether the president has a realistic vision for --

    GIGOT: Well, he raised the prospects of this peace agreement with the Palestinians. He's -- clearly, John Kerry, the new secretary of state, has made this a priority or wants. What are the realistic prospects?

    STEPHENS: You saw a bit in Ramallah when the president spoke --

    GIGOT: That's in Palestine.

    STEPHENS: It's the capital of the West Bank, if you will -- when he was having a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the American president said, look, let's not have negotiations with pre- conditions or insist that the Israelis end settlement activities.

    GIGOT: Right.

    STEPHENS: And he was effectively scolded by the Palestinian president. So, the real nub of the problem here isn't so much the settlements or this or that Israeli activity. It's a refusal by the Palestinians to make any kind of compromises with the Israelis.

    GIGOT: Dan?

    DAN HENNINGER, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, let's talk a little bit about Barack Obama. He is asking fundamentally the Israelis to take a risk on behalf of peace.

    GIGOT: And that's why he wanted to reassure them about the American security commitment?

    HENNINGER: Well, that's right. But think about what Obama's attitude has been towards the Middle East in the first term of his presidency. The Libyan intervention, he brought up the rear after the Europeans went in first. We have Syria now completely falling apart and the president has kept the Syrian rebels at arm's length for nearly two years. And then he shows up in Israel and tells the Israelis that they should take a risk for peace in the Middle East when he's been holding -- the president holding the region at arm's length. It's not --


    GIGOT: So you're saying this is essentially credibility problem.

    HENNINGER: Yes. Absolutely.

    GIGOT: -- going to have with the Israelis. And at this stage, they've seen four years. They're not going to buy it.

    But on the other hand, he tried to appeal, Bret, to the Israelis self- interest, and said, look, your future, demographically, is such that with the Arab populations growing faster, you have to come to an agreement if you want to survive in the region.

    STEPHENS: Right. In theory, that's right. And in 20, 25 years, Israel will face a demographic problem.

    But the question is the here and now, Paul. And in the here and now, Egypt is under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood. You don't know what's going to happen in Syria or in Lebanon. The future of Jordan, where the president also visited, it's very clouded, very unclear. In Israel, you have to take your problems in the order in which they arrive. The real problems, Iran, chaos in the rest of the world. The issue of the of the demographic future is real but its longer term.

    GIGOT: So realistically, peace in the next few years between Israel and the Palestinians or not?

    STEPHENS: There's no chance.

    GIGOT: OK.

    STEPHENS: But the problem can be managed.

    GIGOT: It can be managed so there's not an outbreak of conflict.

    The other area the president -- really, I thought his rhetoric on Iran was at least as forceful as I've ever heard him. Basically, it seems to me, saying, look, we're not going to let them get a bomb. It isn't containable, Iran is not, if it gets one. That really puts him on the hook, it seems to me, in the next term to do something if Iran doesn't cooperate diplomatically.