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Thus he is desperate to find a feather that he can insert into his bedraggled bonnet, and a “success”—even an implausible, transient, insignificant and entirely fictive advance in the Israeli-Palestinian arbitration burlesque—which can be puffed in the compliant, leftist media as a “signal accomplishment,” has become his expedient of last resort. Obama cannot afford another policy miscarriage to add to the interminable catalogue of his stumbles and blunders, and will consequently do everything in his power to twist Netanyahu’s arm and wring yet more concessions from Israel. But this cannot be described as “negotiations”; it is coercion, and can only augment the chances of conflict rather than make it less probable.
Obama has always sympathized with the Muslim cause anyway, whether at home or abroad—anyone who denies this has been living on another planet. But the game Obama is playing at the present moment has more to do with saving the remnants of his tattered presidency. Unfortunately for him, what he does not see is that there are only two effective ways he might—just might—be able to realize his aim and emerge from the rubble of his administration looking somewhat less disheveled. One way is to radically alter his economic platform, reduce taxes across the board, relent on his “green energy” fraud and abandon the redistributionist ethos he clamps so firmly to his bosom. He might also consider reformulating his immigration policies—or lack thereof—which in their current state would swell the entitlement rolls at enormous cost to the taxpayer. The other is to order an air strike against the Iranian nuclear sites and, by neutralizing a major threat to world peace and to American geopolitical interests, prove his determination as a leader and refurbish his patriotic credentials.
Since he is unlikely to do either, the last card he has up his capacious sleeve is settling the Israeli-Palestinian problem by insisting on another peace conference, working to bring about what none of his predecessors were able to achieve, and so demonstrating his putative statesmanship, ostensible vision and the impressive force of his personality. It is the wrong card, a testimony to Obama’s overweening self-regard allied to his monumental ineptitude. For the only possible conclusion to the empty charade he is pursuing is a protracted misadventure obvious to all, that is, no agreement whatsoever, or a fugitive and tepid accord whose provisions the Palestinian leadership will violate with impunity and which would only exacerbate the current situation.
Were Obama truly impartial and concerned with justice, he would have donned what liberal philosopher John Rawls in A Theory of Justice called the “veil of ignorance,” a metaphorical garment that has nothing to do with ignorance as such but with a disinterested and open-minded attitude distinct from one’s emotional investments, so far as this is possible. Viewing the dispute he wishes to adjudicate and adopting Rawls’ “veil” or “difference principle” (principle of equity), Obama would have recognized that the Israelis’ case is at least as strong as, in fact, historically and legally far stronger than, that of their counterparts.
He would then have been better served to put the Palestinians on notice that reciprocity and compromise are the foundation of negotiations and that they must have something to offer aside from threats on the one hand and parchment promises on the other. He would have informed them that Israel cannot be expected to make all the tangible concessions and that its security and territorial integrity remain paramount. And he would have reminded them that, according to international law, the minimal curtilage that Israel holds across the Green Line is the legitimate spoils of war. The prospect of the withdrawal of American funding and material assistance from the Ramallah government would be a powerful bargaining chip and help to level the playing field. But Obama is clearly resolved to put the squeeze on Israel while giving the Palestinians what amounts to a free pass. Such a policy coincides with both his deeper sentiments and his political calculations.
In thus seeking to force Israel’s hand to the advantage of the Palestinians, which beneath his ornamental rhetoric remains his essential strategy if he is to attain the political consummation he so desperately needs and covets, Obama will only embolden the Palestinians, alienate most of the Israeli electorate, further the explosive stalemate in the region and ensure the dereliction of his cherished purpose. But then, how could we have anticipated otherwise? After all, this is Obama.
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