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Obama, An Undiplomatic Arbiter for Israel and Palestine

5-27-11 Posted by admin in Blog 4 Comments
Wailing wall

From the outset of his presidency, Barack Obama was thought to be much more sympathetic with the prospect of a Palestinian state than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush, as a matter of fact, was no less committed to the two-state solution than Obama, but his intentions were derailed by the tragic events of 9/11.

Where Bush hesitated at the prospect of alienating Israeli leadership by insisting too hard on an end to new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the Obama administration has been more adamant. Yet, none of Obama’s previous diplomatic efforts signaled the awkward, entirely undiplomatic statement on Israel and Palestine made by the president on May 19.

Obama’s insistence on the 1967 border between Israel and Palestine was not only uninformed in terms of previous negotiations but also blithely dismissive of the major changes in the political alignments in the Arab world and their consequences for future Israeli security.  Israel has spent too little time pursuing serious negotiations, perhaps thinking they could keep the status quo, but that strategy only assured that the recent changes in the Arab world would pose a more serious threat than might have been.

Particularly unsettling to Israel has been the recent unity agreement between the Hamas and Fatah parties on the West Bank and in Gaza. The Hamas prime minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh then called upon the Palestinian Liberation Organization (Fatah) to withdraw its recognition of Israel. Without a clear recognition of Israel’s right to exist there can be no peace between the two sides and, of course, no progress in pursuing a two-state solution.  Without a two-state solution, the deterioration of the quality of life on the West Bank, a in Gaza, under the occupation has sent thousands of middle class families, including much of the Christian community, have gone to live elsewhere.

Perhaps even more immediately threatening is Egypt’s opening of the Rafah crossing on the southern border of Gaza this Saturday.  There’s no predicting what kind of munitions will be brought across that border to supply terrorism against Israel. The Katyusha-type rockets now hitting southern Israel could be replaced by something far more deadly.

When Prime Minister Netanyahu attended an Oval Office meeting on May 20, he immediately rejected Obama’s insistence on the 1967 borders. Obama then retreated in a speech the following day to AIPAC. The qualifications added by Obama to the border issue left many shaking their heads as to why they were not included in the first place.  Previously negotiations brokered by the U.S. between Israel and Palestine always included broad exceptions to the ’67 borders.

To complicate matters more, Obama seems oblivious to the looming question of the Palestinian refugee “right of return.” Those who have followed the negotiations over the years have long known that the Palestinians would have to settle for a very limited number of returning refugees in exchange for an acceptable border with Israel. None of Obama’s public statements, including those from his trip to the UK, suggest any awareness of this sticking point.

Perhaps the president’s awkwardness can be explained by the approaching September vote in the United Nations on Palestinian statehood. Although a UN resolution would effectively create an independent state — that remains to be worked out with Israel — it would provide the Palestinians significant international leverage.

The United States has stood by Israel, thus far, at the United Nations, e.g., vetoing a resolution in February condemning the building of more Israeli settlements on the West Bank. But, it’s very likely that President Obama does not want to become further isolated in the international community as a supporter of Israel.

Pushing Israel to the wall with insistence on borders that compromise its security — along with no mention of the refugee question — cannot bring about a resolution to the conflict before September, or any time.  The president needs to begin by acknowledging that the political turmoil in the Arab world has made Israel much more vulnerable to attack, restate the U.S.’s commitment to protecting its valuable ally, and insist that the Palestine government, whether unified or not, unambiguously affirm Israel’s right to exist and its status as a Jewish state.

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4 Responses to Obama, An Undiplomatic Arbiter for Israel and Palestine

  1. Victress Jenkins says:

    If they won’t move back to those 1967 borders, at least remove the settlements so that the Palestinan State can get started. This means that Israel should cease accepting immigrants from outside; the PLO should immediately recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist without qualification; no more artillary shells lobbed over the walls/fences of Israel; and accommodate the Muslims & Christians already living in Israel itself.
    What if all the Catholics of the world moved to Vatican City and/or Italy itself? That could cause major problems for both entities.

    • Don Hennen says:

      It’s easy to sit eight time zones away and say what the various players in this drama should do, but in the end we’ll have to decide what to do when they don’t all buy our pies in the sky.

      Here’s a cold reality. The Palestinians will never accept Israel’s existence, even if some of their leaders sign a treaty. Many of them have grown up with violence and force, and it’s all they know how to do. Here’s some history: Long ago, the Palestinian refugees were accepted by Jordan. To show their gratitude, they tried to overthrow the Jordanian government. Having alienated themselves, there, they then moved on to a peaceful, prosperous Lebanon where they made it what it is, today. It would be unjust to lay this at the doorstep of each Palestinian, yet to the grief of all, there seems to always be an implacable element among them.

      The fact is, there won’t be a peaceful resolution. In the real world there are often two sides to an issue that have no real common ground. Then all you can do is choose which side you’re on. The question is, will we support the only middle eastern country that remained our ally through the cold war when all the Arabs kissed up to the Soviets? They still want our friendship. Or, will we side with the folks who party when something evil befalls us, and who burn our flag in the streets?

  2. Bernie Haley says:

    The Jordan River headwaters are under the Golan heights mountains and have been subject to attack by Syrians in a clandestine action several years ago. Giving up the Golan Heights has proven deadly for the farmers working on the western plains below and for Tiberius, which was shelled by long-range artillery from the heights, when Syria had control of them. I have gazed across the Sea of Galillee at those heights and it is obvious why Israel cannot give them up to hostile Muslim nations.

    The Palestinians were kicked out of Jordan by King Hussein because of the trouble they caused Jordan. They have been trouble wherever they settle. In the days when the border into Bethlehem was open, I personally saw the difference in the care and nurturing of the land on each side of the border. On the Palestinian side, garbage was stacked 3 ft high, the streets were in desparate need of repair, buildings were unfinished, the poor condition of the people was obvious. All the aid money sent there by duped world governments has not trickled down to the people, but been spent on causing trouble for Israel and others. I doubt any of this is even considered by Mr. Obama and the ‘progressive’ party in America. Antisemitism lives still.

    Bernie Haley
    Pacific Beach, WA

  3. all4HIM says:

    How can anyone who claims to be a Christian have support for separating or dividing Israels land given to them by GOD Almighty. As a matter of fact their GOD given land as laid out in the Bible contains much of Syria and Jordan all the way to the Euphrates river. Any Christian who advocates such divisions with Arab enemies or anyone else is in defiance of GOD and a hypocrite. And surely all know how Jesus feels about hypocrites !

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