President Barack Obama has just launched a bombshell aimed, apparently, at pressuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into accepting Washington’s proposed framework agreement.
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg which Obama must have known would be published just before Netanyahu landed in Washington, the US president was exceptionally blunt and critical of Netanyahu.
He warned the prime minister that Israel has been pursuing “more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.” He added that, “With each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept.”
America’s ability to “manage the international fallout is going to be limited,” Obama warned. “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank?...Do you perpetuate over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?” The Americans are also putting pressure on the Palestinians.
Last week, in a meeting in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry presented an outline of a framework agreement to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that was not to the president’s liking.
Abbas reportedly referred to it as “insane.”
While it is unclear whether all the details of the report published in Al-Quds were true, sources close to the negotiations have said regarding security arrangements in the Jordan Valley that the Americans have worked closely with the IDF. The Americans also seem to have adopted Israel’s position that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
And in an interview Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kerry placed most of the burden for moving the process forward on Abbas. Asked whether this was “a moment of truth” for Netanyahu, Kerry replied that “everybody has to act.”
“He’s been very courageous,” Kerry said of Netanyahu, “and he’s made tough decisions with respect to entering into these negotiations and some of the things that he’s indicated he’s willing to do in the negotiations.
It’s up to Abbas. The Palestinians need to decide whether or not they’re prepared to compromise, whether or not they are willing to do the things necessary.”
Some have pointed to Obama’s interview with Goldberg as evidence that the Americans are unfairly putting the onus on Israel. It did seem that Obama was giving undeserved credit to Abbas when he said of him, “You’ve got a partner on the other side…who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel.”
The US president conveniently ignored the fact that Abbas regularly glorifies Palestinians terrorists – living and dead – and has done little to combat incitement against Israel broadcast on official Palestinian TV.
However, the Goldberg interview should be seen within the broader context of Kerry’s statements that praise Netanyahu and criticize Abbas.
It is almost as though Obama and Kerry are playing good cop/bad cop in an attempt to bring the sides together. In the Goldberg interview, Obama seemed to be sending out a message to the Palestinians after Kerry’s statements that the US should still be considered an “honest broker” in the ongoing negotiations, while Kerry is trying to do the same vis-à-vis Israel.
Extending talks past the nine-month period that ends in April is in the interest of all sides. Kerry and Obama have invested their name and reputation in moving the peace process forward. They have no intention of letting talks break down if they can help it.
Meanwhile, Abbas will be faced with a political crisis that might deteriorate into a loss of control on the West Bank if the April deadline is not extended. And Israel has no intention of taking the blame for torpedoing the talks.
The question remains whether the US framework agreement will provide a basis for a future peace agreement that finally ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We certainly hope it does.