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Obama Likely To Brake on Israel Diplomacy

Palestinian unity and ’12 elections mean the costs outweigh the benefits

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Yesterday at the Jewish Heritage Month reception.(Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)

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]

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Forest says:

How clueless can a person be? Israel has put numerous maps in front of the Palestinians. What has been their response? No. When will it become clear to marc tracy and the Washington establishment that Israel is not going to roll over and play dead, the oslo agreement was a disaster and that haaretz does not represent the thinking of 95% of the israeli public?

Garry says:

Any return to the 1967 borders would be suicidal. DO you know of any othe nation that would even consent to such a deal? if you do, please tell me which one. The idea that the future of Israel will be determined by a quartet including the UN, EU and Russia-all hotbeds of anti-Judaism is more than insane. The future of Israel should be determined by Israelis alone-not by any other parties.
Look at the map of Europe. Tell me which European country has clean hands when it comes to territorial changes on maps and so called population exchanges. Stop worrying about Tikkun Olom, purge the leftist ghosts and demons that haunt Israel and the Jews and behave as a nation is supposed to.

Lansing Reed says:

Tracy writes: “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Times Op-Ed yesterday contains within it all the hope and failure on the Palestinian side.”

Like being a lie from pretty much beginning to end. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/was-mahmoud-abbass-family-expelled-from-palestine/238999/

The “Palestinian” society is organized around and exists solely for the purpose of destroying Israel. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, so also would the “Palestinian” nation.

M. Brukhes says:

How, Garry, would you presume to “purge leftist ghosts” in Israel–particularly when so many of those ghosts are still, at last check, living and breathing people? I find your rhetoric quite telling….

And while I’m at it: if the future of Israel is to be determined by Israelis alone, then how are the Palestinians to determine their future? Wouldn’t the Fatah-Hamas alliance seem to take a page out of your playbook? And I’m guessing you’re a big fan of that deal, right?

Garry says:

To M Brukhes: The “situation” in the Meiddle East could have been solved in 1967-when Israel, after the Six Day War offered to return all of the conquered territories for peace. Do you remember that? Do you remember the Arab response? The three no’s of Khartoum-no recognition, no negotiation, no peace. So now, the loser acts as the victor, and Thomas Friedman and the other tikkun olomers talk about the ball being in Israel’s court. Tell me, did you ever start reading a 500 page book on page 250? Look at the Middle East from the beginning. The Arabs have never indiated a desire for peace and take advantage of Israel’s yearning for peace. Maybe Israel needs to reply with a response similar to the three nos in order to set the Arab negotiating party straight. Negotiations are bilateral, and are not an act of Israeliu surrender. No more Munichs!

fred lapides says:

I leave it brighter guys than me to settle this. Just want to say that I had read the Abbas op piece referred to and was astonished how misleading (aka lies) it contained. Now if he is serious, he ought to begin by recognizing the truth as it is recorded. Then move on from there.

“apartheid in spirit, in my opinion, if not in letter” Once more the proverbial code words describing what clearly is anything but. I think that Marc Tracy needs to get out of Dodge and spend some time with us in Israel before making such a discrediting flip remark.

jake says:

“apartheid in spirit, in my opinion, if not in letter..”

I could barely contain my laughter…..such a ridiculous statement…

Marc, if you really believe that we need another Arab state with crappy leadership in the region than you must really hate these Palestinians more than your willing to admit…to you, setting them up for failure is a good thing.

So, serious question. Tracy asks “how could you have a state encompassing two discreet areas governed by rival authorities.” I’d like to know how anyone can have a state encompassing two discreet areas, period. Gaza and the West Bank don’t connect. Even if Israel retreated to the 1967 borders, Gaza and the West Bank don’t connect.

No country allows citizens of another country to pass through its borders willynilly. And there is no right of citizens of one country to pass through another. Short of a landgrab by the Palestinians getting pre-1967 Israeli land from the UN, how could a single Palestinian state in two geographically distinct areas, Gaza and the West Bank, work?

Your conclusions seem quite sound. Obama may give a somewhat tough speech at AIPAC but he will not jeapordize the upcoming congressinal elections or his own by dissing PM Netanhau- whether you like the PM or no.
As for Abbas, that is another story. Mahmoud Abbas asks for the world to vote yes to a Palestinian state. The world did so in 1948. It was the Arab countries who said no. They said no three times in Khartoum. The Palestinian Authority said no again to President Clinton. The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel which is diametrically opposed to the U.N. charter. We hope for the day soon that Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian people will vote yes for themselves and for Israel agreeing in public, Arabic, and to the world that Israel is the sovereign Jewish homeland of the Jewish people in perpetuity. Such a yes vote will erase all the no’s and provide quickly for two states; one Jewish and one Palestinian, living side by side in peace.

A. Bernal says:

When are we going to see past the rhetoric? Obama is as much supportive of the Jewish State of Israel,as he is in support of non-unions and creating jobs in America. On the pulpit he speaks out of one side of the mouth, while his actions support what is coming out of the other side of his mouth.

It’s the elections folks! During Obama’s run at the presidency he spouted support for Israel; yet, in office he continues to support actions agaisnt Israel. Thus, the 2012 compaigns begin with, you guessed it, support for Israel.

It’s Interesting how easily the majority of us American Jews fall for the “wink-wink” of liberal politicians, while ignoring the facts: Billions are sent in “aide” to the very countries that are trying to destroy Israel. (We send money and military support for the people–but in dictatorships the funds NEVER reach the people.) (Bush was no different than this,too.) We demand Israel to give over land, while demanding nothing from Arab dictators except, “please stop sending rockets to Israeli children . . .” (who, by the way, have the same government as other Arab countries of the Middle-East we are trying to remove).

This, however, seems to fly over our heads like the German Jews prior to WWII. So, let’s keep believing in the winks of politicians while 80 million+ Arabs in the Middle-East want to destroy and throw 6 million Jews into the sea, because Israel is a bully!

It’s amazing to see how the blind continues to lead the blind over the cliff–willingly!

Aradi S. says:

Wow, this is really depressing; starting with Marc Tracy’s article and on through the comments I thought I was reading the Jewish Chronicle or some other right-wing publication. Tracy equivocates about whether Israel is an apartheid state, take a look around fella; and the comments, besides a shallow reading of history (by Jewish historians by the way) what we have here is a river of racism that clouds even the most well meaning commentator.

M. Brukhes says:

OK, Garry, thanks for your response, the salient point of which, I think, is as follows: “Maybe Israel needs to reply with a response similar to the three nos in order to set the Arab negotiating party straight.” So as I said before, your response is to mimic the Arabs. So much for Israeli exceptionalism. And what’s sauce for the goose. And an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. And so forth….

Yael Taubman says:

You, all over the world, keep pretending (gee, I hope you are pretending, to be deaf, dumb and blind. otherwise, there is no excuse for the basest stupidity of
the press, and many influencial voters everywhere. I am thoroughly disgusted
at a world which see everything totally
up-side down. Espcially the JEWISH left, which leaves me wanting to vomit.

Beatrix says:

When Al-Jazeera printed their articles about the 2008 peace negotiations, they quoted Abbas as saying that the “right of return” wasn’t realistic. Abbas made other concessions, too, but his people were so upset that he had to deny this. The Palestinian people were programmed by Arafat and Abbas hasn’t the popularity to change their mindset.

Either Israel or Obama has to offer the Palestinians something so wonderful that they’ll give up these words to live by that are killing their chances for peace. I’ve suggested that with the loss of Mitchell, perhaps Obama can replace him with Bill Clinton. And a carton of chocolate ice cream.

Colt says:

No Palestinian leadership, whether the P.A., Hamas, the P.L.O., any combination of these, or any other leadership will ever sign an agreement to create a Palestinian state and not because of Israel or anything that Israel would do. A Palestinian state will not come into existence because the Palestinians living in E. Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza do not want the Palestinians living in the Palestinian diaspora to return. For example, Gaza is already super crowded, without enough jobs, without enough housing, without enough schools, without enough electricity, and without enough water. Does anybody really think that the Gazans will allow millions of diaspora Palestinians to move in? E. Jerusalem is a crowded half of a city. How will E. Jerusalem accommodate millions of new residents? In principle the West Bank has sufficient land to receive millions of newcomers, but what would the arrival of millions of diaspora Palestinians, most of whom have very little money and very few marketable skills, do to the economy of the West Bank? Recall that the West Bank economy is much stronger than the economy of Gaza. But if a Palestinian state were established according to international law, millions of diaspora Palestinians would pack their suitcases and move into either Gaza, E. Jerusalem, or the West Bank. And equally according to international law, the Palestinians already living in these three places would be powerless to prevents them from moving in. Because of this, the Palestinians in Gaza, E. Jerusalem, and the West Bank will never allow a Palestinian state to be declared. Of course they will spin their statements so that Israel will be blamed for the failure.

Beatrix says:

Palestinians living in the camps were able to go to school, establish businesses, and live life the same as those outside the camps. They just were not allowed to vote or to leave the camps, which means they aren’t all poor and uneducated.

A journalist writing in the main government run Saudi Newspaper (therefore the article was tacitly government approved) suggested that the Palestinians had an example to look up to when they tried to establish their country with the influx of newcomers. The example was Israel which had to integrate Jews from all over Europe into a newly established Israeli society, and later had to integrate Jews who were forced out of their Mideastern homes.

There’s a lot that the Palestinians could do if they weren’t so absorbed by self pity, and a lot that Israel and other Mideastern countries could do to help them if helping them wasn’t so dangerous.

The vast majority of Palestinians continue to believe that they will “return” to Israel, as Sunday’s mass marches and the recent Facebook 3rd Intifada call demonstrate. Until the Palestinians accept that this is impossible, so over, there’s no turning back the hands of time, this can never be and is not reality, there can be no comprehensive peace agreement. In response to Abbas, perhaps Netanyahu should make an offer: “We Israelis will stop building settlements” if you the Palestinians accept and agree that you have no “right of return”. Israel “accepts” the Palestinian precondition for the return acceptance of one of its own. What are the chances Fatah/Hamas will play?

Beatrix says:

There will be no “right of return.” That’s probably what Netanyahu was planning to use the settlement issue for, but Obama took it away from him. Per Abbas, making settlements a pre-condition was Obama’s idea.

And per Netanyahu, he did agree to an additional settlement moratorium, but Obama changed his mind and decided to go in a new direction.

I believe both men. The world blames Netanyahu.

When settlers learn they have to give up settlements, Netanyahu is in as much trouble with his people as Abbas is when Palestinians learn there will be no “right of return.” Leaders have been assassinated by both sides for less.

Obama won’t do anything, not just because he’s started campaigning for 2012, but because he’s never stopped running for office. He wants credit for catching OBL. He doesn’t want to be saddled with the thankless peace talks between Israel and Palestine. That doesn’t win elections.

tomblair says:

No Palestinian state. No Jewish State. One state – for all the peoples of the Middle East. When Israel stops being racist and opens it’s borders (as most Jews advocate for America) to all, then it will be truly democratic, human, and safe.

Beatrix says:

Hey Tomblair:

Right now Israel is the only stable democracy in the Mideast (no one knows where Turkey is heading). Have you been asleep for the last 63 years?

No country in the world opens its borders to all. But all Israelis, Jewish, Christian and Muslim have equal rights, equal votes and all are represented in the Knesset. I can’t guarantee that everyone loves each other, but I can’t guarantee that for America, either.

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Obama Likely To Brake on Israel Diplomacy

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