He has gotten emotional on one issue and that's health care, and he was prepared to fight for it. As for Israelis and Palestinians? He'll take a look in 2013, see where the lay of the land is, and carefully calculate the odds of success or failure. Remember, for a two-term president, legacy cuts both ways: You want to be remembered as the hero, not the goat, and that means leaving a vapor trail of kudos, not stumbles, let alone outright failures. And going all out on Arab-Israeli peace when the conditions just aren't there has failure written all over it.
The reality of the second term:
Every administration is different, but there's a reason the second term doesn't produce unchained presidents throwing their weight and influence around.
First, they don't have as much of either. The first day after Inauguration 2.0, two clocks start ticking: the legacy clock and the lame-duck clock. The first measures what a president can accomplish in the time he has left with the street cred and reputation he's developed; the second watches those assets slip away. It's a race, really.
Presidents and their staffs also get tired, are scandal-prone, and start making mistakes in a second term (see: Reagan and Iran-Contra; Clinton and Monica Lewinsky). And then there's the problem of how America's allies and adversaries perceive the president's waning power. Arafat's decision to pass up Clinton's proposals on final-status deals in December 2000 was clearly driven partly by his galactic miscalculation that he'd get a better deal and a tougher line against Israel from the son of George H.W. Bush.
The fact that Obama won't get a third term may even work against him. Beginning Jan. 21, if not Nov. 5, the Arabs and the Israelis will begin to take the measure of a president who now has a guaranteed expiration date.
If there's anything the locals are really good at, it's evasion, delay, and maneuver in the face of initiatives they don't like. And they'll be taking Barack Obama's measure to see how serious he really is.
What they'll conclude, of course, depends on how the president behaves. But the obstacles standing in the way of a two-state solution are formidable and growing. More than likely, the second-term illusion will remain just that. And in assessing Obama's intentions, credibility, and drive on Middle East peace, the Arabs and Israelis may well conclude that if it swims, has feathers, and quacks, it's more than likely a duck -- and a lame one at that.