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Soul-Searching, Self-Reflection, and the Peace Process

Meeting with 50 Jewish leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, President Obama reportedly urged them to contact their Israeli colleagues to encourage “soul searching” about Israel’s commitment to peace (h/t: Ed Lasky). His message was apparently the same he delivered in 2009, when he told Jewish leaders that the Bush approach to the peace process had not accomplished anything and that Israel needed to engage in “serious self-reflection.”

In evaluating Obama’s renewed advice, it is worth comparing his two-year peace process with the one in Bush’s final two years.

Faced with (1) the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the resulting inability to implement Phase I of the Roadmap (dismantlement of terrorist groups), and (2) the Palestinian refusal to consider Phase II (a provisional state), the Bush administration “accelerated” the Roadmap and went straight to Phase III final status negotiations. It convened an international conference to kick them off and devoted the secretary of state virtually full-time to the process, with 20 trips to the region. The result was another Israeli offer of a contiguous state — on all of Gaza, all of the West Bank (after land swaps), and a capital in Jerusalem — which the administration advised the Palestinians to accept and they rejected, extending their streak of missed opportunities to seven.

In the past two years, Obama discarded the prior definition of a “settlement freeze” (no new settlements or expansion of borders of existing ones); refused to abide by the 2004 Bush letter on defensible borders and major settlement blocs; decided to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel; publicly humiliated the Israeli prime minister; adopted a position on settlement construction more radical than that of the Palestinians themselves; lectured Israel at the UN; lost the confidence of both sides, and … achieved nothing.

The Palestinians are still in no position to implement Phase I; yesterday they rejected Phase II again (concerned that Netanyahu may be preparing to offer it to them); and they are engaged in an end run around Phase III — preferring to work toward international imposition of a state without the need for negotiations. The process obviously requires some serious soul-searching — but by whom?



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