With less than nine months left in office, President Obama apparently plans on ending his time in the White House the way he began it: by pushing hard to create more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. That’s the upshot of a new report about the Middle East peace process from the so-called “Diplomatic Quartet” endorsed by the Obama administration. According to the Associated Press, American diplomats are saying that while the report will mention the incitement and violence from Palestinians that have resulted in a new bloody surge of terror against Israelis in the last year, its primary focus will be on upbraiding Israel for the construction of homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. While very much in keeping with administration policy, this should be a moment for Hillary Clinton as well as Donald Trump to make it clear that they oppose the president on this point.
The point of the report, which will be unveiled sometime in the next several weeks and then presented for an almost-certain approval vote at the United Nations, is to assess the blame for the failure to create a two-state solution to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Its contents make clear that the four entities involved in the Quartet, the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States, all agree that the reason why peace hasn’t yet been attained is settlement building.
The real question about the report isn’t about the degree of blame to be placed on Israel. The Obama administration, like its diplomatic partners, isn’t very interested in any aspect of the conflict that doesn’t have to do with apartments being built in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or West Bank settlements. Rather, the variable in this strategy is just how far the administration is prepared to go in its last months to pursue the president’s vendetta against his longtime antagonist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With the Palestinian Authority poised to head again to the United Nations to get the world body to recognize it as an independent state without first making the PA make peace with Israel, the administration has a dilemma. It can either insist that the Palestinians negotiate their independence via a peace process that will entail their recognition of Israel and commitment to ending the conflict for all time or it can abandon the Jewish state at the UN as Obama’s parting shot after eight years of increasingly bitter conflicts between the two governments. Such conflicts have been driven primarily by the president’s obsessive belief that Israel is the obstacle to peace.
The Quartet report is deeply misleading in the same way that much of the administration’s policies have been. It relentlessly tilts the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. Since January 2009, U.S. policy has been focused on the idea that the only way to advance peace in the Middle East is to create more “daylight” between the positions of the U.S. in Israel. That strategy has been the driving force behind the series of bitter disputes between the two governments over settlements and the terms of any prospective peace agreement. But despite the administration’s hard line against the Israelis, the Palestinians never took advantage of the president’s efforts. And that brings us back to why the Quartet report is such a foolish diversion from the truth about the impasse in the region.
One may question the wisdom of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, but the notion that settlements of any kind are a real impediment to a peace agreement is nonsense. If the goal of the peace process or, indeed, that of the Palestinian national movement, were a state alongside Israel, settlements would not prevent it from happening. After all, the Israelis presented the Palestinians with peace offers that included statehood and possession of almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Each time the Palestinians said no. Since then, Netanyahu has also accepted a two-state solution and offered a massive West Bank withdrawal that was met again with Palestinian refusals to talk. The Palestinians blew up the last round of peace talks promoted by Secretary of State Kerry by making a deal with the Hamas terrorists that run Gaza and also by abandoning the process to go to the UN.
Just as important, the PA has spent the last year promoting blood-libel myths about the Israelis planning to harm the mosques on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in order to instigate a new round of terrorism. The PA, Israel’s supposed peace partner, has, as the Quartet report indicates, encouraged and praised the terrorists. Like Hamas, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has declared all of Israel, including all of the territory it controlled prior to June 1967, to be “occupied.”
They do this because the real obstacle to peace is the fact that Palestinian nationalism is inextricably tied with the war against Zionism and the Jewish presence in any part of the country. Though Abbas, who has been praised by Obama and Kerry as a champion of peace, has not only encouraged terrorism, he has also consistently refused to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
If a two-state agreement is the goal, it is also a fact that almost all of the settlement growth (which consists of new houses in existing communities, not land grabs) is taking place in areas that even the Obama administration is prepared to concede would remain inside Israel in the event of a peace deal. Treating the settlement blocs that are largely adjacent to pre-1967 Israel (and which would be swapped for other land in a deal) or Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as if they were remote hilltop outposts in the middle of the West Bank only encourages the Palestinians to believe that if they wait long enough they can force Israel to give up all of it and force several hundred thousand Jews out of their homes.
Though the status quo is unpleasant for both sides, the reason why the overwhelming majority of Israelis won’t consider more unilateral territorial surrenders — which is what Obama and the Quartet want — is what happened after the Gaza withdrawal in 2005. Ariel Sharon pulled every soldier, settler, and settlement out of Gaza. But rather than becoming a bastion of peace, the strip became a terrorist state used for launching thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and for digging terror tunnels across the border. Replicating that experiment in the West Bank rightly strikes most Israelis as insanity.
If the Palestinians want a state they can have one. Israelis would gladly endorse again their country’s past offers of peace, including painful withdrawals from much of the West Bank. But so long as the Palestinians show no sign of being willing to end the conflict, they won’t further endanger their country.
But by joining a biased international community in wrongly placing the blame on Israel for the conflict the administration makes the already remote chances of peace even more unlikely.
The AP report about the Quartet was the result of administration leaks and was meant to place even more pressure on Netanyahu. But instead it ought to put pressure on the White House to back off on its intention to betray Israel at the UN. Both the Clinton and the Trump campaigns — as well as members of Congress from both parties — should react to this development by calling upon the administration to demand that the Quartet re-write its report in a manner more consistent with the truth and the reality of Palestinian intransigence.
In particular, Obama’s former secretary of state (and designated scold of Netanyahu) should declare that she not only disavows this policy but will also reverse it once she’s elected. If she fails to do so, it will be possible for Trump to argue that she is complicit in a betrayal of Israel. If she can’t put some daylight between herself and Obama on this issue, it will be impossible for her campaign to persuade the many Republicans and other supporters of Israel who have misgivings about the presumptive GOP nominee that a vote for her isn’t merely a vote for four more years of Obama’s vendetta against Israel.