What we have now, in the months leading up to the November presidential election, are the fruits of Obama's inexperience and his disastrous Middle East policy. On the one hand we have the failure of the Obama administration to deal with the potential opportunities of the "Arab Spring." On the other hand we have the inability of the Obama administration to counteract what Muslim extremists have seen as an opportunity to fill the vacuum left by Muslim dictators.by Steven J. Rosen
JCPA Strategic Perspectives
- President Obama apparently believed that pressuring Israel to halt construction of homes in Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem formerly controlled by Jordan would advance peace. In reality, the opposite ensued. As a result, he was the first president since the Madrid conference in 1991 to have had no sustained high-level, direct negotiations between the parties. Never before were peace negotiations held up by putting the wish for a settlement freeze first. Mahmoud Abbas participated in 18 years of direct negotiations with seven Israeli governments, all without the settlements freeze that he now insists is an absolute precondition to begin even low-level talks.
- Obama's failure to distinguish construction in east Jerusalem from settlement activity in the West Bank put him at odds with the Israeli consensus. No major party in Israel, and no significant part of the Jewish public, is willing to count the Jewish neighborhoods that fall within the juridical boundaries of Jerusalem as "settlements" to be "frozen." Moreover, the concept of agreed settlement blocs laid the basis for a compromise between the Israeli and American governments. In his letter of April 14, 2004, President George W. Bush acknowledged that, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."
- The Sharon government reached an understanding with the Bush administration to ban outward geographic expansion of established settlements, while reserving the right to continue expansion inside the "construction line" of existing houses. The New York Times reported on August 21, 2004, "The Bush administration... now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward." Almost all the construction that the Netanyahu administration has allowed is either in Jerusalem or in the settlement blocs, the two categories that Israel had thought were protected by understandings with the Americans. From the Israeli point of view, then, Obama violated an Executive Agreement that Sharon had negotiated with President Bush.
- Elliott Abrams, who negotiated the Bush administration's compromises on the natural growth of settlements, wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "There were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation...the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza....There was a bargained-for exchange." Israelis were bitterly disappointed by the Obama administration's refusal to acknowledge agreements with a prior U.S. government that the Israelis considered vital and binding. Sharon aide Weissglas said, "If decision-makers in Israel...discover, heaven forbid, that an American pledge is only valid as long as the president in question is in office, nobody will want such pledges."
- Stalled peace negotiations in the Obama years cannot be blamed on Netanyahu's policies of accelerating settlement construction. He has in fact slowed it down. What has undermined peace negotiations, rather, is Obama's policy on the settlements – and the unrealistic expectations that policy has nourished.
And always we have the confrontational approach of the Obama administration as it tries to intimidate the Israeli government in order to rack up easy points in pushing through a peace deal that would add a feather to Obama's cap and keep his Nobel prize from looking like the empty trophy it is.
Read Israeli Settlements, American Pressure, and Peace
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