Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
The biting criticism of Israel’s West Bank policies expressed this week by US Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro is not a bolt from the blue. It is planned and purposeful escalation of American pressure on Israel, meant to force it into withdrawals – without peace diplomacy or Palestinian commitments.
Surprise at Shapiro’s tough comments could only be expressed by those who hadn’t been paying attention. Shapiro’s remarks echoed recent statements made by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Saban Forum in Washington (December 5) and by US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power at a Haaretz-New Israel Fund conference in New York (December 14). Ambassador Shapiro just added some icy icing of his own.
Kerry told the Saban Forum that “continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make separating from the Palestinians much more difficult.”
Then he asked: “How does Israel possibly maintain its character as a Jewish and democratic state when from the river to the sea there would not even be a Jewish majority?” If Israel retains the West Bank, “Would Israelis and Palestinians living in such close quarters have segregated roads and transportation systems with different laws applying in the Palestinian enclaves? Would anyone really believe they were being treated equally? What would the international response be to that, my friends?” Kerry asked.
Similarly, Power asserted that “continued settlement growth raises questions about Israel’s longterm objectives,” and demanded an explanation of settlement building in “areas that will be part of the future Palestinian state.” She asked: “What do we say to those in the international community who are frustrated by the lack of a two-state solution? What answers does Israel have for its well-wishers at the UN?” Shapiro parroted these lines (“continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions”) and then sharpened the censure: “Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes on unchecked,” he said. “And at times there seems to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law, one for Israelis, and another for Palestinians.”
He then added America’s voice, publicly for the first time, to the constant European critique of “Israel’s restrictive land-use policy” for Palestinians in Area C. He demanded that Israel “provide us with tools to assist in our global diplomatic defense of Israel, to which we will always be committed.”
And he concluded with the new, impatient American refrain: “What is Israel’s plan for resolving the conflict; for remaining a Jewish and democratic state?” In truth, Shapiro was positively polite in comparison to earlier remarks of his boss, President Barack Hussein Obama. Those who closely follow Obama know that heightened American criticism of Israel, alongside the unmistakable warning that America will find it increasingly “difficult” to defend Israel at international forums, goes back to Obama’s infamous interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in March 2014 and Obama’s smug sermonizing at Adas Israel synagogue in Washington in May 2015.
Obama told Goldberg: “If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time [This is a false accusation! – DMW] – if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited... There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices.”
Obama then went on to feign dismay at the possible isolation of Israel and to affect agony over America’s inability to “manage” the fallout and to defend Israel. I say feign and affect, because Obama has been decisively driving toward an American distancing from Israel from his first day in office. He has been leading the world in that direction, not lamenting or resisting it.
The give-away in this regard has been Obama’s total failure at any time over the past seven years to place a smidgen of responsibility on Mahmoud Abbas for retardation of the peace process. Obama has never been willing to pin failure of diplomacy on the recalcitrant and defiant Palestinian Authority. Failure can only be laid at Israel’s feet.
Only and always.
Abbas’s minions can savage Obama and Kerry, brutally mock their peace proposals, intransigently reject moves toward Israel, launch lawfare meant to criminalize Israel in international forums, cozy up to Hamas and to Iranian officials in preparation for future battle, spread lies about Israeli moves on the Temple Mount, incite violence and glorify terrorism against Israel – yet Obama remains mum.
Abbas says he will “never” recognize Israel as the national state of the Jewish People, “never” forgo the so-called right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees, “never” accept Israeli security control of the Jordan Valley and other key air and ground security assets, “never” allow Jews to live in Judea, and “never” accept Israeli sovereignty in parts of Old Jerusalem. Yet Obama has no comment on this.
In short, Obama has had nothing to say about a Palestinian political culture that remains violent, anti-democratic, obstructionist and wedded to historical lies. He has issued no veiled or pointed warnings of PA diplomatic isolation or economic collapse if Abbas doesn’t compromise and advance the peace process.
In the meantime, Obama is fixated on a secondary (mostly phony) issue, settlements and law in the West Bank. Alas, this makes it “hard” for Obama to defend Israel. In fact, it obliges him to launch a holy crusade (or should I say, jihad) to save Israel from itself, no less! And in order to blunt criticism in the American Jewish community of the painful political shellacking that he is preparing to dish out to Prime Minister Netanyahu for his “amoral” West Bank policies, Obama has manipulatively sought to wrap his behavior in the lofty values of tikkun olam and kibbutz Zionism – the “true” moral values of Judaism and Zionism on which Obama is so expert – and on ersatz concern for the Jewish and democratic character of Israel.
It doesn’t seem to matter to the Obama administration that the Netanyahu government is prepared to renew peace talks with the Palestinians unconditionally, and place all issues on the table; while the PA refuses to do so, preferring to attack Israel at the UN and cheer on stabbings of young Israeli mothers and their born and unborn children.
Sadly, the Obama administration seems to have signed on to Abbas’s game plan: Dodge true talks where the Palestinians would have to compromise with Israel, and instead compel unilateral Israeli concessions via international pressure. And thus, for remainder of the Obama term, American rhetorical fire and diplomatic pressure likely will be concentrated ever more on Israel, alongside continued kid-gloves treatment of the pernicious PA.
Alas, this undermines hope for reasonable and moderate behavior-modification of the Palestinian side, and any chance of true peacemaking for many years to come.