Jeffrey Goldberg has posted an interview with Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, who participated in the meeting of Jewish organizations with President Obama on Monday. Ben-Ami says that in the meeting, some suggested Obama had been one-sided in his demands on Israel, but that the president had an effective response:
[T]he president really again pushed back, very calmly but firmly, and said no, that he has on every occasion, where he has spoken out publicly, and where the [U.S.] government has taken a position, made it clear that there are obligations and steps that must be taken by Israel, and obligations and steps that must be taken by Palestinians and the broader Arab community. If we’re going to make progress, both sides have to live up to commitments and both sides have to take some steps.
The focus to date has been on Israel’s obligation to freeze settlement activity as part of Phase I of the Roadmap — and the president has taken the strictest possible position, interpreting the obligation in a manner different from how Israel understood it at the time it agreed to the Roadmap, and different from the informal understandings Israel has observed for six years.
A two-sided peace process would presumably require a similarly strict interpretation of the Palestinian obligations. Under Phase I, the Palestinian Authority is required to engage in “sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.” There is no ambiguity in that obligation; it was perfectly clear what it meant when the PA agreed to it: dismantle Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and every other terrorist group.
But the PA cannot do what it agreed to do because — among other reasons — the Palestinians elected their premier terrorist group to control their government, and the PA no longer functions in half the putative state, which is run by the group they were supposed to dismantle.
So the unambiguous Palestinian Phase I obligation has been reduced to a rhetorical requirement. In Obama’s May 18 formulation, the Palestinian obligation is to “do a better job of providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution.” The explicit dismantlement obligation has become simply the need to do a “better job” of providing “assurances.”
Similarly, the Phase I obligation for “[a]ll official Palestinian institutions [to] end incitement against Israel” — which was supposed to occur at the outset of Phase I six years ago — has been redefined downward. In Obama’s May 25 formulation, the Palestinian obligation is to “continue to make progress in reducing the incitement and anti-Israel sentiments that are sometimes expressed in schools and mosques and in the public square.” An absolute requirement to end incitement immediately is now only an obligation to “make progress” in “reducing” it. The soft bigotry of low expectations is a tougher standard than that.
Thus “both sides” have commitments — but for one side, there is an absolute and immediate requirement to meet a stricter, redefined obligation regarding settlements, restricting building even within existing settlements, even within settlements the U.S. has already assured Israel it will retain in any foreseeable peace agreement.
For the other side, however, there are reduced requirements, not stricter ones — to provide better “assurances” and “make progress” — with no timetable, no measurements, and no expectations that even the reduced requirements are anything other than a rhetorical assurance for credulous Jewish groups that the process is one in which “both sides” supposedly have commitments.