What's Obama's real Mideast legacy?
by Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, March 10, 2016
Today's front-page story in the New York Times on President Obama's plans to promote Middle East diplomacy was about as ill-timed as an article could be. It was published on the day after a horrifying murder spree by Palestinian terrorists including an attack in the Old City of Jaffa that took that life of an American tourist who was also a veteran of the U.S. Army. That Vice President Joe Biden was dining not far away when the incident took place only highlighted the indiscriminate nature of the surge in Palestinian terrorism. It also was a reminder that Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority that President Obama has lauded as a champion of peace, is, in fact, a major source of the incitement that has created the current violence.
But just as important, the juxtaposition of the leak to the Times of President Obama's possible plans to promote a resolution laying down the framework for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians at the United Nations with the latest terrorist attacks illustrates everything that is wrong with the administration's Middle East policy. Having come into office determined to create more daylight between Israel and the Palestinians in the mistaken belief that doing so would promote peace, apparently Obama is determined to exit the White House pursuing the same course. Though virtually everything that has happened in the region during the last seven-plus years has proved that his thesis was dead wrong has had no impact on the president's thinking.
As the Times reports, the goal of the lame-duck Obama initiative is nothing less than to "save" the two-state solution, which the president and his foreign policy team believe is dying on their watch. While the details were not laid out in the article, the implication would be that the U.S. would insist on Israeli territorial withdrawals with the 1967 lines as the starting point for discussions, the creation of a Palestinian state and some sort of division of Jerusalem along with security guarantees. In other words, this would be what the foreign policy establishment has spent the last two decades telling us is the solution that "everyone knows" must be implemented.
In theory, some form of this effort might be the ideal solution to the intractable problem of two people struggling over one land. But rather than a gesture for the future that sets out principles that the two sides must point toward, the administration effort is very much mired in the reality of the present. And that is why it would be a colossal mistake that could serve as the starting point for even more violence rather than peace. Indeed, the proposal is a microcosm of all the mistakes made by Obama since January 2009 that exacerbated an already bad situation and set the stage for the very bloodshed that Biden was forced to deplore during his visit.
What's wrong with another UN Security Council resolution on Middle East peace? Some Israelis and others in the foreign policy establishment aren't that worried or impressed by the idea. But the problem with Obama's Middle East diplomacy is that it is resolutely out of touch with the reality on the ground in such a way as to encourage the most destructive impulses within Palestinian society.
After all, the absence of peace isn't due to lack of plans for it. Such plans are a dime a dozen and have been floating around the region for decades. Israel has even agreed to some of them, as evidenced by its offer of peace and independence to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them their own state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But Yasir Arafat and then his successor Abbas turned down each one. Even the supposedly "hard-line" government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed not only to a two-state solution but also to far-reaching withdrawals from the West Bank. But Abbas not only refused to negotiate seriously but also blew up the talks by making a deal with Hamas and executing an end run around the U.S. to the UN, lest he once again be forced to say no to peace.
Abbas has made it clear he will never say yes to any peace deal because to do so he must recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Nor is this mere posturing. It reflects a deeply held consensus within the political culture of Palestinians in which any compromise that forces them to end their century-long war against Zionism is seen as unacceptable. That this intransigence has been a disaster for the Palestinians is not in doubt. But it is one that has persisted in spite of the obvious benefits that might be obtained from peace. But instead of diplomatic efforts being focused on convincing them of the cost of persisting in this position, the U.S. has spent the past several years confirming their belief that sooner or later, the Israelis will be forced to bow to their demands without requiring them to end the conflict for all time.
That is why Biden's statements about the PA having to condemn the Jaffa attack are welcome but too little and too late. After years of beating up the Israelis and treating them as the obstacle to peace, the Palestinians believe the Jewish state is increasingly isolated. With both the U.S. and its European allies continuing to send aid to a PA that continues to praise terrorists as martyrs, so-called "moderates" like Abbas have no incentive to change their policies or even to attempt to begin the work of convincing their people to accept peace. Indeed, Abbas's lies about Israel harming the Temple Mount mosques—a cynical ploy taken right out of the playbook written by the pro-Nazi Haj Amin al-Husseini—was aimed at provoking violence in the home of creating more U.S. pressure on Israel.
The only thing the Obama framework would accomplish is to create more such pressure and, in turn, more incentive for Palestinian terrorism, since both the PA and Hamas, believe, with good reasons, that the international community will never make them pay a price for either their support for terrorism or their refusal to make peace.
If the overwhelming majority of Israelis no longer believe that the two-state solution is viable (a consensus that now united both Netanyahu's Likud and the leading left-wing opposition party), it is because they know that any withdrawal would lead to more terrorism. They also know that the model for an independent Palestinian state is not the utopia envisioned by Obama but the very real entity in Gaza run by Hamas as a terrorist caliphate.
Peace plans that don't take changing this reality as their main focus and starting point are pointless. Worse than that, they convince the Palestinians that they need only wait for the West to abandon Israel. Sadly, President Obama has done much in his time in office to encourage them in that belief. His real Middle East legacy isn't a peace plan but a framework for violence that Israelis and now even American tourists continue to pay for in blood.