For months, supporters of Israel, as well as its foes in this country, have been trying to understand which way the wind is blowing in the Obama administration. But after the president’s meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it’s becoming quite clear that the breeze is swaying away from the Israelis. The president’s statements about Israeli settlements during the photo-op with Abbas on Thursday certainly sent the Palestinian away happy. As the New York Times report on the meeting indicated, Obama was prepared to directly intervene in a dispute that has usually been left to lower level functionaries:
Mr. Obama reiterated his call for a halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and said he expected a response soon from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Mr. Obama’s words echoed — albeit less bluntly — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brusque call on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank. In expansive language that left no wiggle room, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”
Her comments took Israeli officials by surprise.
Mr. Obama said something similar last week during private talks with Mr. Netanyahu at the White House, and Mr. Netanyahu responded that he could crack down on outposts, but not on the natural growth of settlements, according to American and Israeli officials.
The administration then took the quarrel public, laying down the marker that allowing natural growth would not satisfy the United States and that administration officials would not limit themselves to the diplo-speak of the past that simply called settlement expansion “unhelpful.” The decision left the two allies hurtling toward their first public fight.
In the aftermath of the meeting, the Palestinians are spinning their triumph furiously for the world press. According to Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily.com, Obama promised Abbas that a future Palestinian state would have Jerusalem as its capital.
Klein quotes Nimer Hamad, Abbas’ senior political adviser as saying: “Abu Mazen (Abbas) heard from Obama and his administration in a very categorical way that a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is in the American national and security interest,” Hamad said.
Even more upsetting for Israelis is another quote in Klein’s story in which he cites another Palestinian Authority official, this one anonymous, who said, “We were told from this new administration they will not allow a Netanyahu government to hurt their efforts of rehabilitating U.S. relations with the Arab and Islamic world, which is a high priority of Obama.”
Even if one takes this last anonymous quote with a grain of salt, there is no question that the entire thrust of Obama’s Middle East diplomacy appears to lead toward downgrading the U.S. alliance with Israel. While virtually ignoring the nuclear quest in Iran which ensures that before long Israel will be faced with an existential threat to its existence, ironically Obama has now framed the talks with the Palestinians in a way that guarantees that no progress will be made. We can expect this trend will be confirmed in Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo this week.
Obama’s main accomplishment in these two meetings has been to encourage the Palestinians to believe that he will deliver the Israelis to them on a silver platter. In the same story by Klein the Palestinians make clear that they feel no pressure to make any reciprocal gestures to the Israelis such as recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. As was the case when Bill Clinton similarly encouraged Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat to think he could hold out for more and more concessions and raise the ante with violence, the result of this U.S. blunder will not be peace.