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Obama Versus Bibi: The Next Showdown?

The world is rightly focusing on events in Libya and maybe in a few days, and more dissident deaths later, we’ll even start caring about the possibility of Syria’s tyrannical masters employing mass murder in order to stay in power. But whatever the outcome of the Arab Spring turns out to be, another conflict is looming just over the horizon: the next confrontation between the Obama administration and Israel.

Last week’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem and the increase in missile attacks on southern Israel from Gaza barely registered as U.S. forces took part in the Libya intervention. But whether or not this leads eventually to another war with Hamas or that other troublemaking Iranian ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, the real question hanging over the region is what the United States will do in the coming months.

That’s the question posed by the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, who believes that despite the many other more pressing foreign policy issues facing the country, Obama and his team are still obsessing about the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. One would think that the experience he has gained in his first two years in office would have cured Obama of his belief that the Palestinian Authority wants to sign a peace agreement with Israel and that the best way to achieve this end is for the United States to pressure Israel to make even greater concessions than the ones it has been making ever since the Oslo process began in 1993.

Obama began his administration with an attempt to twist Israel’s arm about settlements, and rather than expediting negotiations this tactic helped derail them. But despite the obvious evidence that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has no interest in ever coming to terms with Israel (just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat had none), Diehl believes that Obama still thinks that the Palestinian will sign a deal and that Israel, which offered the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and again in 2008, hasn’t made a “serious territorial offer.”

This is shocking since Abbas’s refusal to negotiate with Israel seriously embarrassed the president last year. After Obama had to back away from the fight he picked with Prime Minister Netanyahu over Jerusalem, many observers felt that he had learned his lesson about the Palestinians. Diehl thinks otherwise, and goes as far as to say that it appears Obama will attempt to pressure Netanyahu to accept a return to the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for peace talks. Doing so would not only, as Diehl points out, give away Israel’s only bargaining chip before the talks begin, but place the nation in grave strategic danger.

Is it possible that with his re-election effort looming next year, Obama would throw Israel under the bus in this fashion? Doing so would be bad policy as well as bad politics but given the way that Obama has already twice made unprecedented attacks on Israel’s rights in Jerusalem (which would be forfeit under a return to the old lines), it makes sense that this is something he would seriously consider.

Of course, Diehl isn’t the only one who thinks so. The other believer in Obama’s eventual betrayal of Israel is Abbas. Rather than talk to Israel, Abbas is hoping to use the United Nations to go around the negotiations and delegitimize Israel. For that to work, he will need for Obama to follow up his recent half-hearted support of Israel in the UN Security Council with a further retreat from the alliance with the Jewish state.

Diehl thinks this puts Netanyahu on the spot to lay out his vision for peace in a scheduled address to Congress in May. But the real question is not whether the Israeli will ably put forward a coherent and reasonable position affirming his nation’s desire for a two-state solution based on security and respect for the rights of both peoples. The question is whether, in the coming months, Jewish Democrats will make it clear to their party’s leader that a betrayal of Israel is not only wrong but political suicide.



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