Commentary Magazine


Obama Boxed In

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems.

Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon got into the act, too:

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad angrily left a UN Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee  meeting and canceled a scheduled subsequent press conference with Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in New York on Tuesday, after Ayalon refused to approve a summary of the meeting which said “two states” but did not include the words “two states for two peoples.”

“What I say is that if the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about,” Ayalon told the Post in a telephone interview. “And also, I said if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

But that wasn’t all. As this report makes clear, Israel’s American supporters have been busy — and clever:

A bipartisan group of senators are circulating a new letter urging President Obama to speak out publicly to pressure the Palestinian leadership not to abandon the Middle East peace talks.

The new initiative comes ahead of the Sept. 26 deadline expiration of Israel’s 10-month settlement construction moratorium, which presents the first obstacle to the direct peace talks being spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that he will withdraw from the negotiations if settlement construction resumes, but Israeli leaders have been equally adamant that they will not extend the moratorium.

President Obama has told Jewish leaders to ignore negative public statements by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, calling it all part of the diplomatic game. But the administration has publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, at least in part.

Lawmakers, who have also bristled at the administration’s public pressure on Netanyahu, are now calling on Obama to make it clear to Abbas that even if the freeze isn’t extended, he should stay at the table.

It is a not-so-subtle message from lawmakers (Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Johnny Isakson, and Richard Burr are the initial sponsors, more signatories are expected) that there will be little patience with finger-pointing at Bibi should/when the talks collapse:

“Obviously this is a direct message to President Abbas, and President Obama, that many in Congress … want the Palestinian leadership to stop making what they see as threats and to put public pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move their position,” said one Capitol Hill insider who had seen the letter.

“Many Capitol Hill office see Abbas quitting the talks over the settlements as him using the same issue he was clinging to when trying to set preconditions for the talks in the first place.”

No, these letters don’t just appear on their own, so credit goes not only to the clear-minded senators but also to pro-Israel advocates who decided it would be much more productive to box in Obama than to gloss over his anti-Israel moves (e.g., opening the door to a UN investigation of the flotilla incident). This is, I would suggest, one more sign that Obama’s prestige and authority are slipping fast. Lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t about to put up with Obama’s Israel-bashing any longer and have decided that they’ve carried enough water for him when it comes to the Middle East.

For more than 18 months, Obama and his hapless envoy, George Mitchell, have made zero progress in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rather, they have strained relations with Israel, raised and then dashed the Palestinians’ hopes, annoyed American Jews, and emphasized the growing alienation of Obama from his own party. If friends of Israel thought it would help, they might suggest that Mitchell join Larry Summers in the “retired in failure” club. But so long as Obama is in the Oval office, there is little possibility that our Middle East diplomacy will get any smarter. Let’s pray it doesn’t get worse.

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