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FP: Abbas believes that Obama is going help him achieve his goals right?
Levin: As incisively conveyed by the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl following a May, 2009, interview with Abbas shortly before the PA leader’s first meeting with Obama, Abbas was convinced that there was nothing he needed to do but to wait until the President delivered the Israelis for him. Obama had already made a total Israeli settlement freeze – something to which no Israeli government had ever agreed and which had never been demanded by the Palestinians as a condition for earlier talks – the central issue in his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He had done so while asking nothing of the Palestinians: nothing vis-a-vis ending incitement and preparing his population for reconciliation with Israel; nothing regarding recognizing Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, even as both Abbas and Obama expected Israel to recognize, and help in establishing, a nation-state for the Palestinians; nothing on ending the demand for a “right of return” aimed at destroying Israel demographically. Abbas had good reason to believe he need do nothing.
Some have suggested that Obama’s stance on settlements forced Abbas to balk at negotiations, since he could hardly be asking for less than the American president. But even after Netanyahu had agreed to a ten month freeze on building, Abbas waited until shortly before the end of the freeze before agreeing to negotiations, and then made an extension of the freeze a condition for his continuing negotiations. Rather than being forced to end talks by Obama’s heavy-handed pressure on the Israelis, Obama’s stance was a convenient excuse for Abbas pursuing his long-defined objective of avoiding all negotiated concessions that might impinge on future demands.
That objective is the motivation as well for Abbas’s seeking recognition of Palestinian demands in other forums: pushing for a UN Security Council condemnation of all “settlement” activity; likely seeking the same next fall in the General Assembly and perhaps seeking as well recognition of a Palestinian state demarcated by the 1967 cease-fire lines; requesting and obtaining from various nations such recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines. All these steps reflect again pursuing Arafat’s policy of gaining a state in the territories without conceding future claims against Israel; that is, without foreswearing future phases in the Plan of Phases.
FP: So what do we make of all of this?
Levin: That Abbas’s aggressiveness and success in these other forums have far exceeded Arafat’s achievements once more owes much to President Obama. While the U.S. vetoed the Security Council resolution on settlements, it did so while vigorously condemning settlement activity in a way no other President except Jimmy Carter had – falling short of calling them “illegal” but coming closer to doing so than any president except Carter (the only one who has so characterized settlements) – and continuing to present settlements as the central issue in the conflict.
In addition, that nations such as France and Britain voted for the Security Council resolution, and that many nations in South America and elsewhere have recognized “Palestine” with territories marked by the 1967 armistice lines, reflect the failure of the Obama administration to replicate President Clinton’s strong stance against such moves and firm insistence that the U.S. would support only resolution of the conflict through bilateral negotiations.
That South American nations have led the way in signing on to the Palestinian program may also reflect the Obama administration’s weak policies in South and Central America, the rise of Venezuela’s strongman dictator Hugo Chavez as the “strong horse” in the region, Obama’s seeking to ingratiate himself with, rather than challenge, Chavez and the South and Central American leaders allied with him, and Obama’s undercutting of democratic allies in the region such as Columbia and Honduras. To be sure, the Obama administration has made virtually no effort to dissuade South and Central American nations from recognizing “Palestine.” It has not forcefully pointed out that such recognition undermines the emphasis on bilateral negotiations as the key to an enduring agreement, and has not even put its full weight behind the centrality of bilateral negotiations. In contrast, Chavez and his backers, like their Iranian allies, have been strong advocates of all anti-Israel gestures.
There is little evidence of anything inhibiting Abbas’s strategy from winning additional victories, and even less evidence of the Obama administration doing anything to counter that strategy. On the contrary, even in the midst of all the recent upheaval in the Arab world, with the possible emergence of Islamist forces gaining control of vast new territories and presenting, in conjunction with Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah, a much amplified threat to Israel, the Obama administration continues to increase the pressure on Israel for territorial and other concessions in the service of “peace.”
There is also little evidence that any facts on the ground, any reality, can shift Obama from his rigid, ideologically-driven hostility to Israel. The main unanswered question is whether Israel is prepared to play Czechoslovakia to Obama’s Neville Chamberlain.
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