From the beginning of the Obama presidency, the Palestinian Authority has shown that it will never allow itself to accept less than whatever the United States has demanded on its behalf. Thus, when the administration asked Israel for a settlement freeze that became a Palestinian precondition for talking with Israel. When the president decided that building in existing Jewish neighborhoods within Jerusalem was an “insult” to the United States, a freeze in Israel’s capital became another Palestinian precondition.
Now in the wake of President Obama’s decision to demand that the 1967 lines be the starting point for future Middle East negotiations, the Palestinians have adopted that point as their latest precondition for talks. Earlier this week, PA “negotiator” Saeb Erekat stated that they would only return to the talks with Israel that they have largely boycotted for three years, if Netanyahu accepts Obama’s dictat.
Apologists for Obama have said that the 1967 lines demand was nothing new in terms of U.S. policy just as they have attempted to argue that his position on Jerusalem was no innovation. But once again the Palestinians have exposed this defense as mere sophistry. No previous American president had ever treated Jerusalem as if it were a remote West Bank settlement nor had any ever explicitly said that the 1967 must be focus of negotiations or done so (as President George W. Bush did in 2004) without acknowledging that the Palestinians were going to have to accept the demographic changes in both Jerusalem and the West Bank in any peace accord.
While Obama may have though that each time he sought to impose conditions on Israel without making similar demands on the Palestinians he was jumpstarting the peace process, he has done the exact opposite. It isn’t clear whether the Palestinians will ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn. But they will never do so long as they think the Americans will do their negotiating for them. Every Obama statement about what Israel should give up has become an ironclad Palestinian demand. One would have thought that Obama would have learned his lesson during his first two disastrous forays into Middle East peace processing but that was not the case. American diplomats are fond of discussing what they believe to be the prime obstacles to peace. But this latest exchange proves that there is no greater obstacle to negotiations, if not peace, than the foolishness of Barack Obama.