Is the president trying to divert his domestic policy failures with a foreign policy spectacle?
The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were inaugurated in Washington last week to much fanfare, resonating proclamations, manufactured hope and an opulent state dinner—this latter being rather more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have come to expect after his miserly White House reception last March. Things, we are told, are going well. One recalls the old joke about a man falling from the 20th storey who says as he passes the 10th, so far so good.
Amidst all the inflated hype surrounding this farcical interlude, many observers remain doubtful, and for good reason. There have been innumerable such conferences before, but the only fruit they bore was shrivelled, desiccated and unpalatable. Sceptics very reasonably point to endemic Arab recalcitrance and pervasive Jew-hatred, to the absolute Palestinian refusal to offer meaningful concessions or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and to the various unscaleable obstacles the Palestinians have erected, like the “right of return” of millions of so-called Palestinian “refugees” to Jewish territory which would put paid to the Zionist experiment in state building. The Arab and Muslim media and curriculum continue to inflame the multitudes with antisemitic (not just anti-Israeli) propaganda, the Palestinians name streets and public squares after terrorists, and PA prime minister Salam Fayyad, the “man of peace,” even as the latest round of peace talks got underway, lobbied for an international boycott of the Jewish state. What chance peace?
But the greatest impediment to the success of the current peace deliberations—i.e., a viable and pragmatic outcome—is not the Palestinians, refractory as they may be. It is Barack Obama himself. This most partisan and indiscrete of presidents has made it plain over the last few years that he has no love for the Jewish state. The checklist is definitive: his close association with antisemites like Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi and with anti-Zionists like Robert Malley, Samantha Power, John Brennan, Susan Rice and Zbigniew Brzezinsky; his awarding the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, the human engine behind the infamous Durban anti-Israel hatefest; his fake paroxysm over building permits in Jerusalem, which had already been agreed upon, in order to back Israel into a diplomatic corner; his administration’s reneging on the 2004 Bush letter of understanding to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approving “secure, defensible borders”; his privileging of apostate Jewish anti-Zionist advocacy groups like J Street; his willingness to compromise with a genocidal Iranian mullocracy at Israel’s expense, under the guise of “sanctions” that will manifestly not have their stated effect of deterring Iran’s nuclear program; and his generous treatment of PA president Mahmoud Abbas in contrast to the hostility he has shown Netanyahu, to tally some of the more obvious items.
Obama and his entourage do not read the Charter documents of Hamas and Fatah in which Israel’s destruction is solemnly pledged. They do not read the translations of the speeches given by Arab leaders to their home audience in which their real, incendiary intentions are expressed. They do not compare the accomplishments of Israeli society in science, technology, agriculture, medicine and education, which materially benefit the world, with the dismal abortions in all these fields in Islamic society. Or if they do, this would render them far more cynical than merely obtuse. Obama and his cabal also ignore the fact that Hamas would not be a signatory to any hypothetical peace treaty, which means that half the “Palestinian nation” would abide in a state of war with the other half as well as with Israel. And so again, whither peace?
Moreover, as has been pointed out many times before, the Palestinians have no incentive to negotiate in good faith, knowing that Obama has turned the screws upon Israel, applied brutal pressure upon its leadership and smiled favorably upon the Palestinian camp. Therefore, they need only wait upon the sequel as the American president raises the bar on Israeli trade-offs, inflicts as much damage as he can upon both the Jewish state and its negotiating position, and quite feasibly paves the way toward a unilateral declaration of Palestinian sovereignty. Obama, as one blogger has written, is “a bad accident”—but not for the Palestinians.
It is evident to many people, including the Democrats, that Obama’s presidency is in a state of disarray. Indeed, it is a veritable shambles. Nearly every one of his “initiatives” in foreign policy and on the domestic front has been an embarrassing failure and people are increasingly hard-pressed to find a single redeeming feature in both his agenda and practice. His plummeting poll numbers and the likely scenario of a Democratic washout in the November congressional elections attest to the fact that Obama has lost the confidence of a majority of Americans and has brought his presidency, and his Party along with it, into utter disrepute.
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.