President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks.
As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.
It may be asking too much to hope the president and his foreign policy team have learned their lesson when it comes to counting on the Palestinians. Every attempt by Obama to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction has been met with rejection or indifference. Rather than taking advantage of the president’s stands on borders and especially Jerusalem, which have done more to undermine Israel’s position than that of any of his predecessors, the Palestinian Authority always refused to budge. Indeed, in a stinging insult to Obama that was a poor reward for his favors, the PA actually tried an end run around American diplomacy by asking the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel. In the last year, Obama appeared to get the message that there is no benefit to trying to help the Palestinians. Though that may have been as much a product of his election-year Jewish charm offensive as anything else, it is still hard to avoid the conclusion the president isn’t interested in wasting any more time on futile efforts that will always be rejected by Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas no matter how hard he presses the Israelis.
Nevertheless, Eldar thinks the second attempt of the PA to win UN recognition will give Obama the opening he needs to float a new American peace plan. Eldar assumes the president doesn’t want to veto the Palestinian initiative and fears the result of its adoption, since that would bring Israeli retaliation that could bring down Abbas. Though Eldar doesn’t mention it, it would also trigger a U.S. aid cutoff to the president’s beloved UN. Eldar thinks a better third option would be a U.S. peace plan that could be imposed on Israel in exchange for a promise to safeguard its security and to prevent Iran from going nuclear. To that end, he cites a report being prepared by former U.S. diplomats that would meet his criteria for an Israeli retreat and an independent Palestinian state.
But Eldar’s scenario is a leftist fantasy that won’t come true. The PA’s UN campaign — the so-called diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to isolate Israel but which turned out to be nothing more than a light drizzle — failed in 2011. That was not just the result of Obama’s veto threat, but also because even the Palestinians’ friends know that granting independence to the PA when its Hamas rival controls much of its territory is insane. The PA is a corrupt, bankrupt failure that can’t make peace even if it wanted to, and even the Europeans know Abbas’s gambit would be a disaster.
Obama might like to settle his account with Netanyahu, but he knows it would mean picking a nasty and costly political fight that would not bring peace any closer. Nor will it make Netanyahu more amenable to a compromise over Iranian nukes–something that is probably much higher on Obama’s priority list.
The next four years are likely to be just as stormy as the previous four were for the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the idea that Obama will stick his neck out for the Palestinians is probably just wishful thinking for Netanyahu-bashers.
Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TobinCommentary.