Most of these ideas, regardless of whether Gates really intends to implement them, are worth exploring. I really, wonder, though, about the viability of a "big push on Israel-Palestine peace" at this point.
It hasn't gotten a lot of coverage, but the Palestinian Authority is in huge trouble right now. Hamas insists that Mahmoud Abbas's term as president expires on Jan. 9. For his part, Abbas is threatening to call presidential and parliamentary elections, the latter of which Hamas would deem illegal.
It's a huge mess, making it hard to imagine Israel engaging in serious negotiations, much less allowing a failed state to set up shop next door. As peace process veteran Aaron David Miller bluntly puts it, "The dysfunction and confusion in Palestine make a conflict-ending agreement almost impossible."
That is a huge problem right now. Whoever attempts a peace process will have to recognize that there will need to be at least 2 Palestinian representatives at the negotiating table, or that Fatah and Hamas agree to form some sort of coalition government, which is unlikely. I still think that if Kadima is reelected, there might be a way to work around it because the Arab Peace Initiative is a proposal made by Saudi Arabia and supported by the Arab League. If Hamas wants to spoil the peace process, the Arab countries are much better placed to pressure them into negotiating than any tough talking American politician. The Arab states currently believe it is in their interests to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem because they are worried that it is fueling fundamentalism in their own country. This is an important window of opportunity for peace between Israel and Palestine, maybe in 10-15 years Arab governments will not be as worried about fundamentalism and will not actively support a peace process.
The second point:
Second, if I were Barack Obama, I'd probe the Syrians to find out what their price is for making peace with the Israelis. If it seems doable, I'd start laying the groundwork so that once the new Israeli government is in place, direct talks could quickly follow with the United States, not Turkey, as a mediator.
Claims that getting the Syrians to stop supporting Hamas will cause the Palestians to be less radical are probably overblown -- if anything, the exiled political leadership in Damascus is more pragmatic than the guys in Gaza -- but a Syria-Israel peace deal has its own logic. Syria has foolishly spurned such opportunities before, but it's worth a shot.
That is also very important. Syria has no ideological reason for not being at peace with the West and Israel. Negotiations with Syria would be one of my top priority if I was Obama (assuming Kadima is also elected in February, if Netanyahu wins, forget all hopes for peace for a while).