The AP’s Karin Laub, who normally works from Ramallah, is in New York to cover the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy going on at the sidelines of the high-level segment of the annual UN General Assembly debate. Today, she wrote a report (based on an interview published in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat — which she did not of course need to be in New York to read) that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has said that “The Palestinians cannot return to peace talks at this time because of ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Israel on what should be on the agenda … Abbas rebuffed an appeal by President Barack Obama that both sides get back to the table promptly”.
Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli teams are supposed to meet today (in NY, each separately with U.S. officials, but not all together) to work out how to re-start negotiations. Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat reportedly said “we agreed to continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations”.
Haaretz’s Avi Issacharoff also wrote about Mahmoud Abbas’ interview with Al-Hayat: “Abbas called the Netanyahu government ‘a real problem’ … ‘The Netanyahu government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations with it. Construction in the settlement is continuing, Netanyahu is declaring Jerusalem and [Palestinian] refugees topics not up for negotiations, so what is there to talk about?’ The Palestinian leader added that he could not agree to Israel’s compromise for a partial settlement freeze, which he said inherently implied continued construction. Abbas reiterated his stance that peace negotiations must resume from where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government left off and insisted they include the core issues. Some stride was made during talks with the Olmert government, said Abbas, adding: ‘There were maps drafted by both sides and proposals for territorial exchanges, and thus we cannot return to point zero.”
However, Israeli officials have said on several occasions in recent months that Abbas did not respond to Olmert’s offer, and that the Palestinian side did not present any maps of its own …
Issacharoff also reported that “Abbas and members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN were pleased with Obama’s statement that Washington is pursuing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, as Abbas has that diplomatic talks with Israel with Israel cannot begin unless it is clear that the 1967 lines are the goal.
But the officials expressed displeasure with Obama’s declaration that negotiations with Israel should begin without preconditions. Yasser Abed Rabbo, who heads both the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the PA negotiating team [?], said the PA was pleased with Obama’s decision to hold another round of
preliminary talks in the interest of bridging the gaps between the parties. ‘Still, our message is clear – we have not retreated from our demands, and relinquishing them will lead to a diplomatic disaster’, he said”. Issacharoff’s article can be read in full here.
Meanwhile, Karin Laub’s story for AP continues: “The Palestinian leader said he wants to avoid a crisis with the Obama administration at any cost, but stressed that ‘there is no common ground for discussion’ with Israel’s hardline leader, Benjamin Netanyahu … Abbas, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said that even at the risk of alienating Obama, he cannot return to talks without a clear agenda. ‘In all honesty, we want to protect our relations with President Obama under any conditions … We don’t want to come out with a crisis with the Americans, or create a crisis. But in the meantime, we can’t go on unless there is a clear path. The road must be defined so we can know where we are going’ … Abbas said in the interview that only a complete freeze [on Israeli settlement activities] will do. ‘We can’t accept the status quo because a partial halt means a continuation of settlements … Even if it is halted by 95 percent, it is still a continuation of settlement activities.” Abbas said that despite ‘fundamental disagreements’ with Netanyahu over the terms of negotiations, he will keep talking to Israel about day-to-day issues that concern the Palestinians, including security and the economy. ‘We don’t reject the principle of talks and dialogue’, he said. In Jerusalem, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon suggested the Palestinians are wasting time by insisting on a settlement freeze. He noted that when required to do so in the past — as part of a peace deal with Egypt and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza — Israel has uprooted settlements”. Karin Laub’s report can be read in full here .
What is Danny Ayalon doing here? If Israel is prepared to uproot settlements, as Ayalon suggests, why doesn’t it say so clearly, now? To the contrary, Prime Minister Netanyahu is publicly saying the opposite.
Haaretz reported today that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz on Wednesday that he would not agree to the Palestinian demand to accept the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations. Netan Barayahu also said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday was ‘positive’ because ‘he also said something we had been seeking for six months, that we have to meet and begin the diplomatic process without preconditions’. Obama had spoken clearly about Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people’, said Netanyahu. ‘I believe that disagreement about this is the root of the conflict’ … Netanyahu also told Israel Radio on Thursday that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. ‘I told Abu Mazen [Abbas] I believe peace hinges first on his readiness to stand before his people and say, “We … are committed to recognising Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”,’ Netanyahu said … ‘I will not drop this subject and other important issues under any final peace agreement’, Netanyahu added … [He suggested there can be peace] if the Palestinian leadership says we want peace, we recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people, just as we’re asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people’. The prime minister concluded by saying that Israel wanted ‘a real peace … Israel wants both recognition and security from its neighbors, and this will be the task of the negotiations in the coming months’.”
As noted in our blog post yesterday, Israelis have not yet done a convincing job of explaining to Palestinians what, exactly, the demand for recognition of Israel as the “state of the Jewish people” means. Nor have Israelis made any effort to address or allay Palestinian fears that this phrase is just code for prohibiting the return of Palestinian refugees, and also the possible expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens. This Israeli position was first made public in Ariel Sharon’s 13 or 14 reservations on the Road Map. Then, it was raised by the previous Israeli government, headed by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the launch of the Annapolis process of negotiations in November 2007. Now, Netanyahu is saying that this a demand he will never drop, that peace hinges on this issue, that this is the root of the conflict.
The Haaretz report stated that Netanyahu, in his interviews in New York, also stated concerning Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly that: “The things he said about the occupation are not new. He also said them in Cairo, and in fact that is the formula adopted by the road map — and it does not say we have to go back to the 1967 borders. This is the formula adopted by governments before the one I head, which did not agree to go back to the 1967 borders. We certainly would [also] not agree to that. In the matter of the settlements he also said nothing new. These disagreements should not prevent the beginning of the process which, among other things if it is successful, will also decide this issue”.
This Haaretz article also duly noted that on the specifics of Israeli settlements, Netanyahu told American TV interviewers that “Israel was unwilling to freeze ‘life’ in West Bank settlements. NBC interview Matt Lauer that he was ‘willing to make gestures to help the peace process’. When asked how big a gesture Israel intends to make, the premier said ‘we’ll get there very soon, I suppose’. ‘But I’ll tell you one thing I’m not willing to do. I can’t freeze life’, Netanyahu added, referring to a possible West Bank settlement freeze, insisted on by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. ‘There are a quarter of a million people there, in these communities which are called “settlements”, although really most of them are bedroom suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ … ‘There are a quarter of a million people living in these communities. You know, they need kindergartens. They need schools. They need health clinics … They’re living. I’m committed not to build new settlements. I am committed not to expropriate additional land for existing settlements. But people have to live. You can’t freeze life’.” This Haaretz article can be read in full here .
Has U.S. policy changed?
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, in response to a journalist’s question at the regular daily briefing in Washington on Wednesday, the following:
QUESTION: Can I ask – moving on, if we may, to the trilateral between President Obama and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, does the fact that the President is no longer insisting on a freeze to Israeli settlements, is that a bit of an about-face? Or, I mean, has policy changed?
MR. KELLY: Well, I thought Senator Mitchell really put it very well yesterday, and that’s that we’ve always looked at our calls to all the parties to abide by their obligations as a means to an end, and there has been no change in our focus on that end. And the end is the re-launch of negotiations that can succeed. That’s the goal that we’re seeking. And the actions that we asked them to take were not an end. They were a means to this end of getting the two sides to sit down and begin negotiation. We never saw them as any kind of precondition. We still continue to believe that the best way for us to create the kind of context for successful negotiations is for all sides to live up to the commitments that they made. And you know what they are: for the Israelis, it’s an end to settlement activity; for the Palestinians, it’s raising trust in their ability to provide for security in the region; and for Arab states, it’s taking steps to normalize. But our focus has always been re-launching the negotiations. So there’s been no change in our policy”.
There’s been no change in U.S. since when? The exchange quoted above seems to mean that there’s been no change in U.S. policy since Obama said, earlier this year, that Israel was obligated under the Road Map to freeze all settlement activities. It is worth a long separate study to see if American policy has changed since, say, the end of the Second World War, or since the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, or even since the June 1967 war, or the October 1973 war, or the end of the Cold War, or since the start of the war on terrorism, which Obama has suggested has come to an end (even as he persists in making a mess in Afghanistan) …
In a briefing with journalists at the Foreign Press Center in New York on 22 September, after the trilateral Obama-Abbas-Netanyahu meeting, U.S. Special Envoy on the Middle East George Mitchell said: “[F]irst let me say that there is no change in American policy. Our position is what it has been throughout. We believe that if the actions that we requested were taken, they would create the best opportunity to have a context in which the re-launch of negotiations could succeed. We have never said that any one of the actions we requested was a precondition to negotiations. And we also never said that the actions we seek were ends in themselves. We have always made clear that our objective is re-launch of negotiations, and that the actions we requested were steps that would help create a context favorable to the successful completion of those negotiations … Upon taking office, President Obama announced and demonstrated his personal commitment to a comprehensive peace in the region. And he’s given this issue a high priority. In the region, this was recognized as unique in recent history. No American president has ever stated it as a high priority at the very moment of his taking office. And we believe it’s been widely welcomed as proactive and positive. We engaged immediately with the Palestinian Authority, with the Arab states, and with the previous government of Israel. As soon as the current government took office in early April, we engaged with them as well. Our effort has been clear and repeatedly stated – to encourage all sides to create a positive context in which to re-launch meaningful negotiation toward a two-state solution. In his speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14th, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his support for that objective. President Abbas also supports that objective. So, all parties are in agreement about the central objective of our effort. Our work is focused on creating the conditions so the negotiations can succeed. Just as we believe that the actions we have requested are intended to achieve the objective of launching negotiations, we also believe that the launching of negotiations is not an end in itself, but it is a means to achieve a comprehensive peace”.
Mitchell, in his remarks to reporters, gave some interesting details about the meetings:”The President had direct and constructive meetings with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, and then he held his first trilateral meeting with the two leaders. As the President said, this was an important moment. Let me first give you some brief details. Each of the three meetings was about 40 minutes long. The tone was positive and determined. The President made clear his commitment to moving forward, and the leaders shared that commitment. For the meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, the President was joined by Secretary Clinton, General Jones, Tom Donilon, and myself. For the trilateral meeting, the President was joined by Secretary Clinton, General Jones, and myself.
In their meetings, Prime Minister Netanyahu was joined by Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, and National Security Advisor Arad. President Abbas was joined by Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo, Negotiations Affairs Department Director Saeb Erekat, and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
This was the first meeting between the Israelis and Palestinians at this level in nearly a year. Even nine months ago, such a meeting did not seem at all possible. Less than a week before President Obama took office, conflict was raging in Gaza and southern Israel, causing both – causing deep suffering on both sides.
Today, the atmosphere is different. Both parties share the goal of a two-state solution and comprehensive peace. And both parties seek the re-launch of negotiations as soon as possible, although there are differences between them on how to proceed. The United States stands with them to help advance toward these objectives. We have made progress on security and economic opportunity, in particular, but we have much further to go. As the President said in his public comments, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations; all sides must summon the will to move forward; permanent status negotiations must begin soon. The President told them that we cannot restart talks from scratch. That said, neither side should hold out for the perfect formula. Painful compromise by all will be necessary. This was a message that the President conveyed to each of the leaders in private as well. We are now going to enter into an intensive yet brief period of discussions to re-launch negotiations.
Our aim is clear: to finally succeed in achieving our shared goals and to end the cycle of conflict that has done so much harm. I will be meeting with my Israeli and Palestinian counterparts and with representatives of Arab states as well, and we will build on the work that was done today to encourage all parties to take responsibility for peace and to act on their commitments … We believe that we are doing the right thing. We believe we have made substantial progress and we intend to continue with full determination until there is comprehensive peace in the region … [W]e have had intensive discussions with the parties, not just on the steps that we ask be taken, to which most of the press attention has gone, but also on what are the terms of reference or the basis upon which the negotiations will resume. On those issues, there remain differences between the parties – how best to proceed. They have different points of view. And there will be further discussion necessary for us to try to get agreement between them on how best to proceed, how to enter negotiations in a manner that creates the most likely prospect for them to succeed … [The differences] relate to terms of reference – where do you begin negotiations in relation to past efforts, what subjects are going to be covered, how are they to be identified, in what order do you begin, what sequence will therefore follow, a whole – almost any imaginable issue that you could think of that affects both the process and the substance of negotiations.We’re going to tackle them the same way that we have until now. We’re going to meet with the parties. We’re going to seek to determine what is necessary to bridge their differences, to close the gaps. We will, where appropriate, suggest language, suggest decisions. And there will be a genuine back and forth, which we’ve had now over many months on other subjects … Where there are differences, we seek to resolve them. And that’s what we’re going to do over the next few weeks”.
Mitchell read to journalists some highlights from his notes of what Obama had said in the meetings:
(1) “It’s difficult to disentangle ourselves from history, but we must do so.”
(2) “The only reason to hold office is to get things done.”
(3) “We all must take risks for peace.”
(4) “Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is critical for Israel’s security and it’s necessary for the Palestinians to realize their aspirations.”
Asked point-blank by a journalist if there was going to be a “renewal”of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, or not, Mitchell replied: “We are not announcing today the re-launch of negotiations at a specific date certain. We will continue our discussions in an intensive and focused way in the next few days in an effort to obtain agreement on the basis on which those negotiations will resume so that there is a reasonable prospect for success once they start. I want to repeat that because this is an important point. We do not favor more negotiations for the sake of negotiations. We do not believe in an endless, unlimited, unfocused process. We believe that the purpose of negotiations is to get a result, a positive result. We want more peace and less process. And so we are trying to launch – re-launch negotiations at the earliest possible time, but under circumstances in which there is a reasonable basis to believe that they can be successful”.
Mitchell also gave a glimpse into the broader regional track he’s been pursuing: “We’ve also worked with the Arab states on our proposal to establish a regional or multilateral track to supplement and support the negotiations once launched. This will involve many states in the region coming together to address common challenges like water and energy. We will also encourage the Arab states to act individually, to strengthen commercial ties and trade with Israel, and to launch cultural and
political exchanges with Israel … We believe that comprehensive peace in the region means Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and full normalized relations between Israel and all of its neighbors in the region. And we regard the entire objective as an important part of what we are doing. We are focused today on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But that is not the exclusive focus, and we are devoting energy and effort to trying to move the process forward on other tracks as well, including those that I mentioned”.
Harvard University Professor Stephen Walt, co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” , wrote an OpEd piece that was published in the Washington Post on 20 September, saying: “Like so many of his predecessors, President Obama is quickly discovering that persuading Israel to change course is nearly impossible. Obama came to office determined to achieve a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. His opening move was to insist that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — a tough line aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and persuading key Arab states to make conciliatory gestures toward Israel … Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has no interest in a two-state solution, much less ending settlement expansion. He and his government want a ‘greater Israel’, which means maintaining effective control of the West Bank and Gaza. His response to Obama’s initiative has ranged
from foot-dragging to outright defiance, with little pushback from Washington. This situation is a tragedy in the making between peoples who have known more than their share. Unless Obama summons the will and skill to break the logjam, a two-state solution will become impossible and those who yearn for peace will be even worse off than before. Netanyahu initially claimed in early June that the Bush administration had assured Israel that ‘natural growth’ of the existing settlement blocs was permissible — an assertion that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials promptly denied. Netanyahu further declared that 2,500 housing units under construction would be completed. He then made a minor concession after Obama’s June address to the Muslim world in Cairo, slipping a single reference to a ‘demilitarized Palestinian state’ into an otherwise uncompromising speech at Bar-Ilan University … In July, after U.S. officials tried to halt an Israeli plan to convert an old Arab hotel into 20 Jewish apartments in Sheik Jarrah — an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem — Netanyahu told his Cabinet that ‘Jerusalem is not a settlement,
and there is nothing to discuss about a freeze there’. Underscoring the point, Israeli authorities expelled two Arab families in Sheik Jarrah from homes they had inhabited for 50 years. Then last month, an unnamed ‘senior U.S. official’ told reporters that peace talks might resume without an agreement to halt all settlement construction, and Netanyahu reiterated that he opposed a complete freeze. A few days later, Israel authorized construction of hundreds of additional housing units in the West Bank. In response, the White House merely said that it ‘regretted’ this action, adding that the ‘U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is and will remain unshakeable’. Three days
later, the Israel Lands Administration issued tenders for 468 new apartments in East Jerusalem. And just a week ago, Netanyahu announced that a complete freeze on settlement building ‘will not happen’ and that construction in Jerusalem ‘would continue as normal’. Why is Netanyahu defying Obama so openly? … Some observers say that Netanyahu’s decision to authorize new housing units is merely a sop to his right-wing colleagues and that he will eventually agree to a temporary freeze on settlements and serious negotiations with the Palestinians. But even if he does, history suggests that any pledge to stop settlement expansion would be meaningless. Previous Israeli governments also promised to halt settlement building, most recently in the 2003 ‘Road Map’ agreement that set a formal timetable for Middle East peace. Yet despite these promises, the number of settlers has more than doubled since the early 1990s and has grown by about 5 percent annually since Israel formally accepted the ‘Road Map’ in May 2003. Nor is settlement expansion the work of a handful of rebellious religious extremists. Labor and Likud governments have backed this enterprise with economic subsidies, essential infrastructure and military protection, as well as an array of roads, checkpoints and security barriers. I n demanding a freeze, Obama is attempting to get Israel to halt a project that its major political parties have pursued for more than 40 years. And even though Israel receives more than $3 billion each year from the United States, his efforts to halt expansion and achieve a two-state solution will probably fail. Why is Obama letting Netanyahu thwart his efforts? To begin with, the president has too much on his plate — the economic crisis, the health-care battle, Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear problem — so the attention he can devote to Israeli-Palestinian peace is limited. And then there is the Israel lobby … In May, for example, AIPAC drafted a letter warning Obama to ‘work closely and privately’ with Israel. It garnered 329 signatures in the House and 76 names in the Senate. During the August recess, 56 members of Congress visited Israel, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters that it was a mistake to make settlement construction the key issue and that there was a ‘significant difference’ between settlements in the West Bank and those in East Jerusalem … Putting real pressure on Israel risks alienating key politicians and major Democratic
fundraisers, as well as Israel’s supporters in the media, imperiling the rest of Obama’s agenda and conceivably his prospects for reelection … Obama and special envoy George Mitchell are negotiating with one hand tied behind their backs, and Netanyahu knows it … To succeed, Obama must use his bully pulpit to explain to the American people that the two-state solution is by far the best outcome for Israel and that time is running out. If he does not get that message across, he will become the latest in a long line of U.S. presidents who tried to end this conflict — and failed”. Walt’s OpEd article can be read in full here. Thanks to Sam Bahour for the tip, which he posted here.
The weakest argument in Walt’s piece is his use — however minimally — of the boogey-man tactic, evoking the spectre of a triumphant Hamas: “If tangible progress toward a viable Palestinian state does not happen soon, however, Abbas and other moderate Palestinians will only be weakened and radical groups such as Hamas only strengthened”.
The very same argument, or tactic, was evident in two AP stories filed today — the Karin Laub piece referred to at the beginning of this post, in which she reports: “If Abbas returns to talks now, without a freeze in place, he is likely to lose more credibility at home where he has been locked in a power struggle with his Islamic militant Hamas rivals. Hamas, which threw Abbas’ forces out of the Gaza Strip two years ago, has derided negotiations as a waste of time and portrayed Abbas as a Western lackey”. Laub’s AP story can be read in full here.
AP’s bureau chief in Israel and the Palestinian territory, Steve Gutkin, did the same thing, writing that “A day after Obama hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, Israeli officials boasted that they had fended off U.S. pressure to halt settlement construction. Moderate Palestinians said they felt undermined by Obama’s failure to back up his demand for a freeze — something Hamas militants were quick to exploit. It has become clear in recent weeks that Obama has backed down on settlements after raising Palestinian hopes by saying in unusually blunt terms that all building must stop on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state. That could seriously damage his credibility, especially in the Arab world. But it might also be a pragmatic realization that a protracted dispute with Israel over a single issue threatened to distract attention from his wider goal of getting the sides together to start drafting a final peace deal. Obama may have had Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ predicament in mind when he outlined a tight timetable for upcoming diplomacy and chose particularly stern words to prod the sides to get serious. At one point in the three-way meeting on Tuesday, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell said Obama told the two leaders: ‘The only reason to hold public office is to get things done’ …
The perception that Obama has backed off on settlements was bolstered by the fact that Israel paid no price for bucking the U.S. demand — insisting on the construction of some 3,000 housing units in the West Bank — and his decision to largely sidestep the issue at Tuesday’s summit. Despite the disappointments surrounding the summit, the reluctant handshake between Netanyahu and the weary Abbas, their first since Netanyahu took office in March, is not irrelevant. It could herald the beginning of renewed engagement. None of that, however, could erase the impression on the ground that Obama has failed to achieve two of his most important goals announced early in his presidency: a halt to construction in Israeli settlements, as well as reciprocal Arab gestures, such as opening up trade offices, meant to begin normalizing relations with the Jewish state. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s polarizing foreign minister who has faced allegations of racism, essentially declared victory for Israel’s stance on settlement building. ‘This government has shown that you don’t always need to get flustered, to surrender and give in’, Lieberman said Wednesday. ‘What’s important for me is that this government kept its promises to the voter … and the fact is that this meeting (the New York summit) happened’ … The lack of muscle behind Obama’s settlement demand has helped create the impression that Abbas, who had been emboldened enough by the tough U.S. stance to set a settlement freeze as a condition for renewed talks, has now been left to dangle. Abbas’ aides tried to spin the New York meeting positively. But one Palestinian government official, Ghassan Khatib, was more candid. ‘I’ll be frank. There was some disappointment here in the Palestinian territories among officials and the public that might not appear on the surface, in the official reactions, probably for diplomatic reasons’, he said. ‘The disappointment results from the fact that the (U.S.) administration … insisted on the meeting in spite of not making enough progress on the settlement freeze’, Khatib said. ‘As long as any peace process is not good enough to stop the expansion of settlements, it will not be perceived as a constructive and meaningful process’. In the Gaza Strip, the Hamas-controlled territory that together with the West Bank is supposed to make up a future Palestinian state, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his movement ‘condemns Mahmoud Abbas’ participation in this meeting which has damaged Palestinian interests … The American administration’s failure to force the occupation to stop settlement and other violations of Palestinian rights confirms its complete bias in favor of the occupation and the danger for the Arabs of counting on the American position towards the Arab-Israeli conflict’, he added”. Steve Gutkin’s piece can be read in full here.
Meanwhile, Haaretz’s Gideon Levy wrote: “It’s as if U.S. President Barack Obama did the least he had to. He ‘rebuked’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That’s not how a president with star power acts. That is not how a superpower does things. America is again falling down on the job, and Obama is betraying his mission and the promise of his presidency … When he was elected, President Obama declared that the Middle East conflict was endangering world peace. Nothing is more true … Meanwhile, instead of change, we have gotten distressing continuity. Instead of ‘yes we can’, we have gotten ‘no we can’t’.”
Then, Gideon Levy also uses the Hamas card, but in an very different way. Levy writes that “Obama needs to turn things upside-down and break with convention. That’s why he was elected. Two decisive steps would change things completely: an American effort to introduce Hamas into the negotiations and pressure on Israel to end the matter of the occupation. Simplistic? Perhaps, but the complex and gradual solutions haven’t gotten us anywhere up to now. Like it or not, without Hamas peace is not possible. The fact that Obama has put his trust only in Abbas’ Fatah has guaranteed failure, which was foreseeable. History has taught us that you make peace with your worst enemy, not with those who are seen as collaborators by their own people. You also don’t make peace with half a people, in half of the territory. Obama didn’t even try to break this unnecessary spell and automatically went, unbelievably, down the path of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The president who was willing to engage North Korea and Iran and dares Venezuela and Cuba didn’t even think about entering negotiations with Hamas. Why is it okay to talk to Iran but not to Hamas? Obama, too, thinks Hamas is fit for negotiations only over the fate of a single soldier, Gilad Shalit, but not over the fate of two peoples”.
Levy writes that “The second step, which is no less essential, is applying pressure on Israel … Israel’s best friend must pressure its ally and save it from itself … It’s not too late. True, the initial momentum has been lost, but now, following this week’s ‘summit of rebukes’, America must hurry up and rebuke itself and mainly ponder how to get out of the booby trap to which it has succumbed. Now, too, only America can (and must) do it”. This piece by Gideon Levy can be read in full here.