U.S. to Pass the Baton in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Tony Karon, in a recent piece from The National entitled, “Obama’s retreat leaves Israel at the mercy of multilateralism,” brilliantly argues what most have come to realize: the United States can no longer serve as an effective broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Given the current multilateral approach being championed by the U.S. in Libya, is a similar multilateral approach with regard to Israeli-Palestinian talks – with the Obama administration standing on the sidelines and letting others take the lead – on its way?

According to Karon, many U.S. allies, namely France, Britain and Germany, certainly hope so, and are currently holding out their hands, asking for the baton.

It is a baton the U.S. may be willing to pass.

It is a baton Israel hopes the Obama administration does not relinquish.


Last month, Washington provided its allies with an “ah-ha” moment. What happened? The Obama administration vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlement construction in the Palestinian territories. While the veto wasn’t surprising for anyone following domestic politics, it was curious nonetheless, for the Obama administration essentially vetoed its own official policy vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that settlement construction needs to end.

This veto demonstrated that the Obama administration, given domestic political pressures, is no longer capable of acting as an even-handed, objective arbiter in talks for a two-state solution. It also distanced the U.S. from its major allies on the issue, and prompted them, in part, to suggest to Washington that the same multilateral approach being taken in Libya be applied to Israel-Palestine.

On multilateralism and the Obama administration’s current use of it in Libya, Karon offers the following:

“This is how the international community should work,” said President Barack Obama a little more than a week ago. “More nations, not just the United States, bearing the responsibility and cost of upholding peace and security.” He was referring to the military campaign in Libya…But some of Washington’s most trusted partners believe the same principle should apply to the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Obama administration, in voting (at the U.N Security Council) against its own policy regarding settlement construction in the Palestinian territories, knew it was making an explicit statement to its allies. That statement: President Obama cannot face the political backlash at home that would come from publicly standing against Israel in a U.N resolution.

However, the most important statement the Obama administration was making, in my opinion, is the implicit one, namely: we can’t do this alone, nor can we take the lead anymore.

If the U.S. does relinquish control of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Israel will (partially) lose its most trusted partner, and it will only have itself to blame.

Netanyahu, in willfully continuing with settlement construction at a time the U.S. has made clear it is against such construction, put the Obama administration in the unenviable position of having to either back up its words, or have its bluff be called.

Netanyahu has unwittingly forced the Obama administration to call its own bluff, and in doing so, has forced the Obama administration to clearly reveal to its allies that it no longer go it alone as a broker between the Israelis and Palestinians.

With upcoming dates in the U.N. to discuss the future borders of a Palestinian state (April 15 and September of this year), it appears that the U.S. – either voluntarily or begrudgingly – is on the verge of passing the “peace talks” baton to a multinational conglomeration.

If this happens, Israeli will have itself to blame.


About David Harris-Gershon

David Harris-Gershon – a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer on Israel, the Middle East and America’s role in the region – has recently published work in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AlterNet, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Colorado Review and elsewhere. His memoir – What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? – is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (2013). He received his MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and has worked extensively as an educator, teaching creative writing and Israeli History / Jewish Studies in university and high school classrooms. Follow David on Twitter @David_EHG

Posted on April 5, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have difficulty in understanding he assumptions being made.
    1. What happens if there is no peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?
    a. Hamas is a self declared enemy of Israel, so looking in that direction for peace is futile.
    b. Abbas wants “gifts” simply to engage in talks with the Israeli’s — Can he really get away with that?
    2. By what line of reasoning do other nations think they can dictate terms to the Israelis?

    In a street fight, you want to be well armed and have lots of friends. Unfortunately, Israel doesn’t have that many friends. The Islamic nations are allied against the Jews (Israel). A great number of the African nations have yet to emerge from tribalism and turn to Islamic nations for payoffs. Socialist nations have a one-world vision that has no place for a Jewish state with its own unique Jewish culture.

    The US is the nation that can best understand the heterogeneous nature of people and has experience in harnessing them to a common purpose. So what’s gone wrong? It seems to me that Obama is more European in his outlook than American. He too seems to have a problem with both the uniqueness of American values or for the uniqueness of Israeli.

    What’s to be done? If the world has no place for a Jewish homeland should Israel now contribute to its own self destruction? I do not see that as an acceptable alternative. I hope people of good faith will say, Never Again.

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