A day after the news of the Obama administration’s decision to abandon efforts to force Israel to agree to another freeze on building in Jewish settlements became known, we’re starting to learn a bit more about the way events unfolded. Though the Palestinians are predictably blaming it all on Israeli intransigence, it’s interesting to note that the “senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal deliberations,” admitted to the New York Times that “even if Mr. Netanyahu persuaded his cabinet to accept a freeze — which he had not yet been able to do — the 90-day negotiating period would not have produced the progress on core issues that the United States originally had sought.”
Which is to say that even with Israel making a unilateral concession, there was little or no hope that the Palestinians would negotiate in good faith, let alone be willing to exhibit the sort of flexibility that an actual agreement would require. But then again, why did anyone in Washington think they would? The Palestinians had several months during which a freeze was put in place to demonstrate their willingness to negotiate, but they pointedly refused to do so until the temporary freeze expired. This was no surprise to observers of Palestinian politics who remembered that the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, had already rejected Israel’s offer in 2008 of a state that included virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem.
Though Times reporter Mark Landler uses his interview with the “senior” official to repeat the usual mainstream-media mantra about Netanyahu being inflexible and to sow doubt about his capacity to negotiate a final deal, he also mentions the fact that the prime minister actually did agree to a freeze in direct consultations with Secretary of State Clinton after she made various promises to the Israelis. But, as Landler notes in passing, Clinton wouldn’t put her promises in writing so as to allow Netanyahu to sell the deal to his cabinet.
Why were Obama and Clinton reluctant to do so? The reason ought to be obvious even to a child: they had no intention of keeping their promises and wanted to avoid producing a document that would enable the Israelis to cry foul. At the very least, there’s little doubt that once the freeze was put in place, Clinton would have reinterpreted the terms of the agreement to Israel’s disadvantage, if not to repudiate it altogether in the way they have reneged on previous U.S. commitments to Israel, such as George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon recognizing Israel’s claim to hold on to parts of the West Bank in a peace settlement. Regardless of whether the Obama peace initiative was a good idea in the first place, this episode provides yet another example of this administration’s inept diplomacy, which has made the already remote chances of achieving peace even more unlikely.