Monday, April 07, 2014

How Obama Destroyed The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

My good friend David Gerstman over at has a fine piece on this subject today, and links the destruction of the Israeli-Palestinian talks to the president's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg published just ahead of Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the United States:

There aretwo points that Obama made in his interview worth recalling. Answering a question from Goldberg about Abbas, President Obama said:

We don’t know exactly what would happen. What we know is that it gets harder by the day. What we also know is that Israel has become more isolated internationally. We had to stand up in the Security Council in ways that 20 years ago would have involved far more European support, far more support from other parts of the world when it comes to Israel’s position. And that’s a reflection of a genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries out there that this issue continues to fester, is not getting resolved, and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure.

In that kind of environment, where you’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns -- for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake. I’ve said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu he has an opportunity to solidify, to lock in, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel that is at peace with its neighbors--
    The two points that stick out in these paragraphs are:
  1. Obama implies that if Israel doesn't make peace he may no longer be willing to defend it in international fora.
  2. Israel has a unique opportunity to make a deal with Abbas, something it may not have again.

(There are number of problems with these assertions. If Obama says that it's harder to defense Israel now than it was 20 years ago, he's going back to the beginning of the Oslo Accords. He's saying that after twenty years of negotiating with the Palestinians; giving them land and money; and being repaid with violence and betrayal Israel is more vilified than it was before. By Obama's telling Israel has been weakened by the peace process. Would it not make sense then for Israel to withdraw from the peace process? If Obama believes that Abbas is unique not only among Arabs but among Palestinians, what sort of risk would further withdrawals entail for Israel? We've already seen the costs that withdrawing from Gaza and southern Lebanon engendered. If there's no one among the Palestinians committed to keeping the terms of any agreement reached by Abbas wouldn't the risks to Israel's security be even greater as the bulge of Samaria shrinks Israel's "waistline" to roughly 8 miles?)

In these two paragraphs Obama telegraphed two messages. The first is that the United States sees making peace as more important (if not essential) for Israel than for the than for the Palestinians. The second message is that he sees Abbas as being indispensable to peace.

Knowing that the cost to defying the United States is non-existent and that he has the full support of the President, Abbas had no incentive to negotiate. So when the prisoner releases were at the end he decided to up the ante and, when he didn't get that, walked away. {...}

President Obama with his "time is running on Israel" belief (backed by Kerry's "worried about Israel's future" ruminations) has signaled to Abbas that he has nothing to fear. He could ditch the talks with no consequence because American pressure would be on Israel. Abbas, quite rationally, obliged.{...}

In the Bloomberg interview, Obama made his position clear and planted the seeds of failure for the peace process.

Yes, President Obama did exactly that.As I reported previously, one of my sources in Israel who is definitely in a position to know told me that Kerry, Indyk and the rest of his team were totally blindsided by the Goldberg interview, and spent the next day or so working on serious damage control with Israel. There were members of Netanyahu's coalition as well as Likud who wanted to end the talks then and there, but Bibi managed to get the troops in line with a 'let's wait and see.'

It was the next stage that imploded things. First Abbas went to the White House, where Obama met him with huge plaudits, declaring him a 'man of peace who has consistently renounced violence'. At the meeting, Abbas flatly declared he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish State or recognize any agreement as the end to the conflict. As we know, right after that our State Department and Kerry did a 180, declaring that it 'wasn't necessary that both sides recognize Israel as a Jewish State,' something President Obama was insisting the Palestinians needed to do only a couple of months ago. That disavowal of an American commitment was what enabled the Arab League to back up Abbas, on that point, something they had never done before. It was also why the Israelis finally realized that Abbas was just staying in the talks to get that last batch of convicted murderers released (even the head Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat admitted as much) and why Israel decided not to release them without a clear committment from Abbas to continue the talks past the April 29th deadline.

Abbas actually gave Kerry an ultimatum
to get the killers released in 24 hours or he was going to the UN. In the end Abbas didn't even wait 24 hours and held a public ceremonial signing of the applications for membership, live on official Palestinian TV.

Kerry had his deputy Martin Indyk try to get the two sides together, but Abbas claimed he'd rather 'be a martyr' than rescind his membership applications for UN bodies, and demanded preconditions from Israel merely to continue the talks no Israeli government would ever consider. Confident in Barack Obama's backing as the Palestinian's lawyer and community organizer, Abbas felt perfectly free to destroy the talks, knowing he wouldn't suffer any consequences.

I actually feel a just a bit sorry for Kerry. The one way to bring the two sides tp serious negotiations was for President Obama to lean on Abbas heavily and explain to him that a refusal this time would involve heavy consequences. He obviously didn' fact, his response was to move the U.S. towards the Palestinian's position. The arm twisting and constant insistence on concessions to keep things going was reserved for Israel.

According to the UN Charter, the United States can not only veto Palestinian statehood but block them from becoming part of most of the 15 groups and conventions Abbas applied to, because only states can join/recognize such agreements. For the U.S. to do so would amount to standing by two treaties it is a signatory to along with Israel and the PLO, The Oslo Accords and the Road Map.

Having torpedoed the peace talks, will President Obama, have the U.S. abstain in the UN when it comes to vote on Palestinian Statehood rather than veto it? We'll see.

One thing is certain. The Israelis are unlikely at  this point to trust any kind of commitment  or security agreement  with President Barack Hussein's fingerprints on it, no matter what sort of innocuous language gets mouthed by Israeli leaders or the White House. One can hardly blame them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Abbas was going to walk no matter what anyone said or did.
All he wanted was a pretext & in the absence of one, he would invent one by advancing an other impossible precondition.
In my opinion, Obama gets his advice from J-Street & the Israeli Left. The interview reflects the nature of the discussions.