US President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is bracing for the possibility that after the US presidential elections and just two months before leaving office, President Barack Obama will make a major policy move on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A number of options are in the offing: recognition of a Palestinian state; a UN Security Council resolution against settlements; a major policy speech; or adopting measures that discourage ties between US firms and entities located on the West Bank such as an amendment to Internal Revenue Service regulations.
But as Nathan Thrall argued in September in The New York Review of Books
, the most significant way Obama can leave a concrete policy legacy – with the potential to influence either the Clinton or Trump administration – would be to set down the parameters for a peace agreement on the issues of borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem in a US-supported UN Security Council resolution.
Once passed in the UN, the Security Council parameters would, in theory at least, be binding on all future US presidents and peace brokers. If Obama is truly interested in leaving his mark on future talks between Israel and the Palestinians, this would be the way to go.
However, we believe that taking this step would be a mistake: not because we believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government is on the verge of signing a major peace agreement, but because moving forward with parameters on the core issues now is premature and potentially ruinous for the prospects of a negotiated peace agreement.
Setting down parameters on issues such as borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem rests on the mistaken assumption that solving these formalities are the only obstacles preventing Palestinians from achieving healthy statehood.
But this is far from the truth.
Palestinians are unprepared for statehood: not because they lack land, a capital or the other trappings of statehood, but because the Palestinians are unable to solve their own differences through cooperation and peaceful politics.
Palestinian political leadership is split between Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Due to that split, Palestinians have been unable to hold democratic elections on a national level for a decade. The present Palestinian political leadership has no democratic mandate to rule.
So as long as Palestinians are unable to solve their internal problems, how are they going to work together to run a unified Palestinian state? If a future Palestinian state deteriorates into anarchy shortly after inception, this would have major ramifications for the security of Israel.
And Palestinian rule remains autocratic. In both the West Bank and Gaza, the human rights of Palestinians are regularly trampled. Journalists and political dissidents who dare to criticize the political leadership are beaten, imprisoned and intimidated in other ways. Corruption permeates Palestinian politics. The justice system is weak.
The individual rights of women and religious minorities are not protected.
Another obstacle to Palestinian statehood is Palestinians’ intransigence. Hamas, the terrorist group which rules in Gaza and enjoys substantial support on the West Bank, not only rejects any compromises with Israelis, but calls outright for the destruction of Israel.
Palestinians’ inability to cooperate to build a state of their own cannot be blamed on the “occupation,” but rather on their own shortcomings. Nor can Palestinian intransigence be blamed on Israeli actions. Large swathes of Palestinian society support Hamas, a Jew-hating, terrorist organization that advocates the targeting of civilians in the war to create an Islamic Caliphate ruled by medieval Islamic law.
The Palestinians need to be willing to enter a negotiating process with Israel with the sincere intention of bringing the conflict to an end, accept Israel’s right to exist, and learn to live alongside it in peace.
Taking steps to create a Palestinian state with its own borders and a capital before solving the more fundamental problems within Palestinian society is a recipe for disaster. It would likely help create yet another failed state in the Middle East that would be a magnet for Islamic extremism, and an existential danger to the State of Israel.
Is that the legacy Obama wishes to leave behind?