While the outcome still isn’t clear, it seems that a new example of failure and
humiliation is unfolding for the Obama administration’s Middle East
It appears increasingly unlikely that the president’s
high-profile effort to restart Israel-Palestinian talks will succeed this year,
and perhaps well beyond.
This embarrassment is taking place due to faulty
assumptions: • That a high-profile effort would serve US interests. By showing
American engagement on the issue, the administration thought it would please
Arab and Muslim- majority countries and gain their support on other issues. This
• That, at best, a high-profile campaign would be likely to
bring rapid progress toward comprehensive peace.
That obviously isn’t
• That, at minimum, it could get the two sides to sit down to
pretend talks – talks where nothing actually happened, but which could be
portrayed as a diplomatic achievement. Even that isn’t working.
the problem is the administration’s mistaken assumption that the Palestinians
are eager to negotiate and get a state, plus the belief that the current PA
leadership could deliver. In fact, both of these ideas are wrong.
the PA leadership (and the masses, too) are still locked into the belief that a
combination of armed struggle and intransigence will bring total victory some
day, and wipe Israel off the map. And even though they are more moderate than
this, neither President Mahmoud Abbas nor Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are strong
or determined enough to change this.
HERE’S THE latest example. The Fatah
Revolutionary Council has not only rejected ever recognizing Israel as a Jewish
state, or land swaps as part of a peace agreement, but also refuses to establish
a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Yet that last point is Abbas’s main
strategy for a unilateral declaration of independence.
service to Abbas, then, the council made it clear that Fatah is in control, not
him much less Fayyad.
In other words, if there were to be such a
declaration of independence, the Palestinian state would claim all the West
Bank, all of east Jerusalem, and all of the Gaza Strip (which is ruled by Hamas,
According to the council’s statement: “The council also
renews its refusal for the establishment of any racist state based on religion
in accordance with international law and human rights
Naturally, they didn’t mention that the Palestinian
constitution’s first sentence proclaims that Palestine is an Arab state whose
official religion is Islam.
So much for not having a “racist
As a further sign of the hard-line stand, Abbas himself
complained that Israel wants to “close the door” to all Palestinians who once
lived there, or their descendents, to come live there – the so-called right of
return, another demand making peace impossible.
Abbas is known to be
personally very devoted to this point.
The council also condemned US
policy – a reminder that Fatah is no friend, despite the Obama administration’s
efforts to court it.
Abbas said that if negotiations fail, “we want to go
to the UN Security Council to ask the world to recognize the Palestinian state.
President Barack Obama has said that a Palestinian state must be established
within a year, and would be a member of the UN.”
While this slightly
distorts what Obama said in his UN speech – that he hoped there would be full
peace within a year – it shows how his soft statements fuel PA intransigence and
feed false hopes that the Palestinians can have everything they want (at least
for this stage) without giving up anything.
ANOTHER PART of the problem
is the administration’s mistaken view that it could pressure or bribe Israel and
Yet since neither side has faith in the Obama administration,
knows that it’s weak and has seen (at least Israel has) that it doesn’t keep its
commitments, any incentive for cooperating is reduced. In the PA’s case (in
contrast to Israel’s treatment), as far as can be seen, the US doesn’t even
apply pressure or criticism.
But even that’s not all. There’s every
indication that the administration has handled the negotiations incompetently.
It focused on getting Israeli concessions without firming up the PA side, thus
allowing the PA to demand more. The offer to Israel was presented in a confused
manner, and it still isn’t clear what precisely was to be given in exchange for
a three-month construction freeze.
Moreover, part of the package that led
people to say Israel was being “bribed” seems to consist of things that the US
has always provided, like support in the UN or maintaining Israel’s strategic
advantage over its enemies.
The whole thing has turned into a mess, and
this isn’t the first time that’s happened in Obama policies.
To cite just
four examples: • The raising of the construction freeze idea in the first
• The position that promises made by the Bush administration would
not be fulfilled by his successor.
• Praising Israel for a construction
freeze that didn’t include Jerusalem and then screaming when Israel fulfilled
• Announcing last year that intensive negotiations would
begin in two months when no such thing had been agreed to by the PA.
even that’s not all. Why did the administration seek a three-month freeze
(originally a two-month freeze) at all? What was the goal? After all, even if
the administration had obtained the freeze, there would have been 12 weeks of
stagnant conversation – purchased at a high price – followed by the break-down
of the talks.
So far the Obama administration has achieved a remarkable
record of failure on this issue. Has it done much harm? To the Middle East, not
so much perhaps, but to its reputation and credibility this has been
Finally and most devastatingly, it isn’t clear that the
current government has learned anything from the experience.The writer
is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of
Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.