Obama Likely To Brake on Israel Diplomacy
Palestinian unity and ’12 elections mean the costs outweigh the benefits
Yesterday, at a White House ceremony initiating National Jewish Heritage Month, President Obama acknowledged, in his official statement, “our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the state of Israel.” Over the next week he will formulate a position on one of Israel’s most pressing security concerns: Its conflict with the Palestinians. Tomorrow, Obama gives a big speech on the Arab Spring; on Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to the White House; on Sunday, Obama speaks to the AIPAC conference; on Tuesday, Bibi addresses the U.S. Congress. The next several days will probably dictate the shape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at least through the 2012 U.S. elections. Tragically, the Fatah-Hamas unity deal—something that in some form had to happen before a state could exist (since how could you have a state encompassing two discreet areas governed by rival authorities?)—has likely foreordained an administration policy of taking no more bold moves on the peace front and nixing Palestinian statehood should it come to a binding U.N. vote in September.
Obama and his aides are currently deliberating over just how much to say about the conflict in the Arab Spring speech. From day one, Obama has believed solving this issue would be a major boost for U.S. interests in the region—why else would he have staked so much to try to ford such a notoriously intractable stream? At this point, though, with the peace process as such dead, and with Palestinian unity on the horizon—in which Hamas, which continues to deny Israel’s right to exist, would become an equal Palestinian sovereign—and with an election coming up and a Congress that is an unambiguous supporter of Netanyahu’s administration (it has literally invited him to address it), there would seem little sense in Obama making a major push, just from a purely political angle. (Hamas provides extra-political reasons not to make peace moves as well.)
For Aaron David Miller, the question is of efficacy: “it’s debatable whether [a new push] would change anything, particularly in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas union,” Miller argues. “The recent unity deal allied Hamas with Fatah without an attendant recognition of Israel’s right to exist or rejection of ‘armed struggle.’ Who could expect an Israeli leader to make concessions under those circumstances?” And for Hussein Ibish, it is a question of the success of the Arab Spring in parts of the Arab world besides the Palestinian territories: “There can be no questioning the importance of the Palestinian issue to the Arab uprisings,” he writes, “but there is also a clear logic to treating the two as parallel but distinct tracks.”
Thomas Friedman wonders why Netanyahu, always so concerned about Israel’s increasing isolation and at this point willing to give up nearly all of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, doesn’t take the next logical step? “Bibi keeps hinting that he is ready for painful territorial compromises involving settlements,” Friedman pleads. “Fine, put a map on the table. Let’s see what you’re talking about.”
The normative part of me leaps to agree: The specter of the ultimate Likudnik flat-out drawing a map and showing exactly where the Palestinian state would go could make for an historic moment, one moreover worthy of the humanistic promise that supporters of Israel say Zionism was intended to reinforce, and not contradict, all along. But the practical part of me agrees with Miller that those such as Obama (in Miller’s telling) and Friedman (in mine) fail to understand Netanyahu “as a politician.” Earlier, this failure to understand Netanyahu as a politician—that offering comprehensive peace would violate the first rule of politics, namely, don’t do something that will make you lose your power—could at least be framed from the moral high ground: Netanyahu is too intransigent a figure to ever risk his power for a shot at peace, you could say. But now? When the leak of the Palestine Papers mean— that any Palestinian leader will have to accept a deal even more generous-to-Israel than the 2008 negotiation would have offered—which will never happen? And when it is Hamas on the other side? All of a sudden, even Bibi is hard to blame.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Times Op-Ed yesterday contains within it all the hope and failure on the Palestinian side. The hope is the prospect of the Palestinians going to the U.N. General Assembly—the same body that, with its 1947 partition plan, helped create Israel—and asking for statehood “on the 1967 border,” and no doubt receiving it (binding statehood would need to be secured from the Security Council, where the U.S. can veto it). The failure is articulated by the silences in Abbas’s superficially moving essay: The fact that the 1947 partition plan helped create Israel because the Jews accepted it and the Palestinians rejected it; the fact that creating a Palestinian state without Israeli consent would turn what is admittedly a hugely unjust situationn—apartheid in spirit, in my opinion, if not in letter—but one of only a certain amount of geopolitical import into an all-out automatic war, in which one sovereign state is occupied by another in what would immediately by necessity become a gigantic and disastrous international incident in a hugely volatile and important region; and the fact that the authority that would ostensibly govern this new state would include Hamas, who is believed to be unfit for peace by more than just Likudniks.
Yesterday, the Palestinian Authority quietly postponed municipal elections by three months—from before September until after it. Just long enough to present a single front in Turtle Bay. Unity was the decision to bypass the U.S. and Israel for the General Assembly, and while I don’t know how I’d feel if I were a Palestinian and suffered the occupation and the degradation of statelessness that they do, it is silly to expect the U.S. president to respond to this decision with anything other than a sad shrug and, in September, a veto.
As Uprisings Transform Middle East, Obama Aims to Reshape the Peace Debate [NYT]
When Obama Meets with Netanyahu [IHT]
Can Obama’s Mideast Speech Fit the Square Peg of Interests in the Round Role of Values? [Ibishblog]
Bibi and Barack [NYT]
Israel Leader Outlines Points Before U.S. Trip [NYT]
The Long Overdue Palestinian State [NYT]
P.A. Delays Elections Til October [Ynet]
Plus Assad admits mistakes were made, and more in the news