Will the Obama administration attempt an eleventh-hour peace push?

There is concern that President Barack Obama may act intemperately in his lame duck days to impose some form of negotiation outcome on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 7, 2016 21:24
4 minute read.
Barack Obama

Barack Obama. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Based on my anecdotal experience on the ground during the last ten days, the North America’s East Coast chattering class is abuzz with fear, mania and befuddlement.

It is deeply disturbing to North Americans, so accustomed to ease and dominance, to be at the epicenter of what may be a tectonic shift globally.

Is Trump’s ascent the harbinger of global chaos, ultra-nationalism and hate-saturated politics? Or, is his victory and approach a much-needed antidote to the choke hold of political correctness on expression and policy? Pollsters, experts and the media have scant credibility these days.

Everyone is confused as to where to turn for reliable information, analysis, reassurance. Some portend an alt-right (nobody knew what that was until two weeks ago) surge in North America and Europe. Most are anxious about the imminent Trump era.

And then there is the concern that President Barack Obama may act intemperately in his lame duck days to impose some form of negotiation outcome on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lashing out desperately to force the olive branch and ensure his legacy and Nobel Peace Prize are unimpeachable.

In Israel and elsewhere, speculation has been rife for months about this possibility.

The tea-leaf reading spiked on Sunday, following US Secretary of State John Kerry’s feisty outburst at the Saban Forum in Washington. He excoriated the Netanyahu-led coalition for cynically manipulating the peace process to build more settlements and imperil the possible outcome of the two-state dream.

He breezily dismissed Israeli concerns regarding the ongoing Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland; the incitement and hate taught in Palestinian schools; the glorification of terrorists by Palestinian media, and leaders, and society; and the deep fear that a territorial compromise, which, at this time would turn the West Bank into another Gaza.

After reciting his laundry list of Israeli concerns, Kerry dismissed them: “I’ve heard all of that.”

Whatever. As if they are random, baseless, speculative fears.

And then, he lapsed into the lazy, disingenuous equivalency that gives solace to so many; on the one hand, on the other hand.

The Palestinians, he said, believe that the Netanyahu government will never accede to a two-state compromise and will push on with its settlement land grab and occupation, leaving them hopeless.

“That,” Kerry solemnizes, “is what they believe.” He uncritically accepts their “beliefs.” Holus-bolus.

Many Palestinians also believe the blatant lies propagated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party about Jewish designs to invade the Temple Mount and disrespect the prophet Muhammad. Many Palestinians were motivated by that illusionary propaganda last year to stab scores of Israeli civilians standing at bus stops and otherwise going about their business.

I hope and believe that Kerry’s tirade is an isolated moment and reflects nothing more than his personal funk.

President Obama has his hands full trying to preserve a shred of his major policy accomplishments: the Iran deal and Obamacare. His legacy is in peril. Should he invite an eleventh-hour foreign policy crisis, in the form of an imposed peace outcome, it would almost certainly fail, further tarnishing his presidency.

It is astonishing that Secretary Kerry, on Sunday, conceded that the failure of the Obama administration to act on its “red-line” threat three years ago – that the US would react with military force to Syria’s use of chemical weapons – just, well, never happened. It withered. And Kerry acknowledged that this outcome damaged US credibility in the Middle East.

And then he went on about the fact that they didn’t decide not to act, they just felt, for political reasons, that they had to wait for approval from Congress. REALLY? By all accounts, Secretary Kerry is a well-meaning, legendarily hard-working public servant. He was just unable to see things as they are and not how he wished them to be.

His paradigm was utterly unsuited to the Middle East. His approach to negotiations was misguided in the extreme, starting with his declaration at the outset of the failed peace talks in 2014-15, that he would achieve a conclusive agreement within ten months.

Negotiation 101 – you never predict outcomes, certainly not publicly.

Throughout the negotiation process, Secretary Kerry criticized Israel for every problem and exonerated Abbas, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the latter had no intention of rolling up his sleeves and sitting at the table. Quietly, many observers are incredulous about this approach: They blame Israel for all and coddle the Palestinians, creating a clear disincentive for them to, well, actually negotiate.

The Obama administration had eight years to spin its magic. The people have spoken.

Vivian Bercovici is the former Canadian ambassador to Israel, and is a lawyer and writer. She lives in Tel Aviv.

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