A post by Maynard.
You know of Obama’s latest speech about the Middle East. It was filled with the usual rosy platitudes. And then came the big slice of meat: An indication of a shift in American policy goals. This is what everyone’s talking about. That part that said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
You’ve heard the various analyses and talking points about what Obama is signaling here and what the consequences might be. I won’t bother to repeat them, except to say that I’m cautious about knee-jerk reactions on anyone’s part, including mine. It’s fair to consider whether actions that seem wrong-headed on the surface may bring positive results.
Alan Dershowitz’s analysis is worth noting. Dershowitz is a Jew and a Democrat (and was part of OJ Simpson’s defense team); he supports Israel but is in no way part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy™. Here’s his article from the Huffington Post, “President Obama’s Mistake”.
You’ll recall Obama’s earlier call for freeze on construction beyond the Green Line. He demanded, and got, a moratorium from Netanyahu. What was the practical impact of Obama’s opening move? Dershowitz observes the harm it did.
[It was a] mistake was to demand that Israel freeze all settlements. The Palestinian Authority had not demanded that as a condition to negotiations. But once the president of the United States issued such a demand, the Palestinian leadership could not be seen by its followers as being less Palestinian than the president. In other words, President Obama made it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to be reasonable. Most objective observers now recognize Obama’s serious mistake in this regard…
You see the problem here. It’s politically very difficult for Palestinian leadership to offer even the smallest concession, for fear of being accused of weakness. Here’s a recent report in Newsweek:
[Abbas] told me bluntly that Obama had led him on, and then let him down by failing to keep pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank last year. “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”
Of course, Abbas, being a politician, needs someone to blame just like any other politician. So you’re justified in taking his explanation with a grain of salt. But, as described here, Obama foolishly raised Palestinian levels of expectation to an unrealistic level. This became the basis for intransigence, resulting in yet another stalemate.
Dershowitz connects Mistake #1 to Mistake #2.
…What is shocking is that [Obama] has done it again. By demanding that Israel surrender all the territories it captured in the 1967 war (subject only to land swaps) without insisting that the Palestinians surrender their right of return, the president has gone further than Palestinian negotiators had during various prior negotiations. This makes it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to be reasonable in their negotiations with the Israelis.
Israel’s previous unilateral concession led nowhere. This time it’s unlikely that Israel will agree to Obama’s demand; certainly not as an opening for negotiations. So the next round of negotiations are probably doomed from the start. What will Obama do then? Backtrack and “clarify”, as Dershowitz suggests? Or will Obama get heavy-handed with Israel? Either way, he doesn’t seem to be laying the foundation of a pathway forward.