Speculation about President Obama’s intentions to push a revival of the moribund Middle East peace process may increase today with reports of plans for a new European Union initiative. According to Ynet News, the British and French foreign ministries are concocting the plan with the support of Germany and the European Union. The conceit of the scheme is a return to the familiar theme of an accord based on the 1967 lines with a division of Jerusalem and agreed-upon swaps of territory between Israel and the Palestinians. It is expected that it will include specific details such as a demand for an absolute freeze in Israeli building in the territories including those areas that it might keep under the swaps. Even more troubling is the notion that the negotiations will be in the context of a regional committee which will include not only the Europeans, Israelis and Palestinians but also nations such as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, a situation in which the Jewish state would be outnumbered, isolated and backed into a corner without much room for diplomatic maneuvering.
The only real variable as far as the push to implement such a plan is the United States. While the Europeans have reportedly held off on putting forward their plan until after President Obama was safely elected and then inaugurated, the question remains as to whether the administration will put its weight behind it. While on the face of it, the plan ought to be to President Obama’s liking since he has pushed Israel hard on settlements, Jerusalem and the ’67 lines, these attempts to strong-arm the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu have always been in the context of American-led negotiations. As with much of the rest of his Middle East foreign policies, it seems the administration is prepared to “lead from behind” on this track and throw its support behind a European initiative, marking a significant policy departure from past efforts in which the president made the Israel-Palestinian issue a priority. If he’s willing to defer to the EU here, it will be a step that could rightly be interpreted as abandoning Israel to a forum in which it will be treated badly.
But it could also be a sign that Obama has finally learned his lesson about the Middle East. The EU plan is doomed to failure just like every other past peace idea. Having been sandbagged by the Palestinians for four years, perhaps he prefers not to waste any of his time or his precious political capital in a second term on the Middle East.
The EU plan is bad news for Israel in that it is clearly designed not so much to create peace as to embarrass the Netanyahu government. No one in their right mind could possibly believe that a Palestinian Authority that has refused every past peace offer will now embrace one that will still force them to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. But the main point of the process will be to put Netanyahu in a bind by forcing him to freeze building in Jerusalem and the West Bank without any real payoff in terms of peace.
More to the point, with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party concentrating these days on negotiating some kind of rapprochement with Hamas, there is little reason to believe it has the flexibility or the willingness to compromise with Israel. The recent signs of a revival of Fatah’s terrorist arm—the Al Aksa Martyr’s Brigade—as well as Hamas’s interest in extending its reach make it impossible to sell Israel on the notion of allowing the Palestinians to replicate the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza in the West Bank. It also makes it fairly obvious that any Palestinian participation in the EU plan will be to discomfit Israel in an international forum rather than actually making peace.
This is the sort of ill-considered notion that the United States should have no part in. In fact, were Obama willing to exercise leadership he would be currently warning the EU to stand down on the Middle East and tell the Palestinians that they should be negotiating directly with Israel rather than standing back and waiting for the U.S. and the Europeans to force Israel to its knees. The only path to peace is one in which the PA rejects Hamas and tells the Israelis that they are willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and negotiate borders and other terms in order to end the conflict for all time. Until that happens, the United States should reject the EU plan and any other such idea that is aimed more at cornering Israel than making peace.