Obama’s Quiet Victory
This week, Congress rose to its feet nearly 30 times as Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, simultaneously a) challenged Obama’s vision of a two-state solution based on 1967 borders for Israel & Palestine, and b) signaled – in so many words – the end of the peace process.
And many, including myself, concluded that the President had likely lost, once again, to the conservative Israel lobby in America and its narrow interests; that Netanyahu’s grand, operatic performance before Congress would cause the Palestinians to throw up their hands and walk away from the negotiating table; that Netanyahu’s rhetorical victory would demolish the White House’s vision for how to procure peace between Israel and Palestine before September.
However, News from the West Bank indicates that if one statesman won this week in the Middle East, it was our president, Barack Obama.
Allow me to explain.
One of Obama’s central demands of the Palestinians in his Middle East speech, and in his speech to AIPAC, was that a unity government formed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must, as a precondition, recognize Israel’s right to exist within secure borders before Israel can be expected to negotiate a peace accord.
It was one of many demands made upon the Palestinians, demands that – unlike Netanyahu and his boisterous cage-rattling – were absorbed quietly, without public complaint, by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Hamas, in contrast, slammed Obama’s demand. Which makes what follows a potentially remarkable development.)
Today, we learn that Abbas is now pushing hard to form a unity government of technocrats that will explicitly adhere the the Quartet demands, one of which being the explicit recognition of Israel.
Not impressed? Let me explain why you should be.
Sources for Haaretz in Israel are indicating that Abbas plans to form a government, with Hamas representatives, that will accept American demands. And sources also indicate that Hamas, despite its virulent views (such as calling for the destruction of the Jewish state) is going to, for the first time, have representatives that go along with acceding to American demands. Namely: recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
The profundity of this, if it indeed occurs, cannot be overstated.
A week ago, President Obama made clear that the United States would not support the Palestinians’ effort to unilaterally declare statehood in September, and called upon Abbas to make clear his unity government’s intention to recognize Israel. Days later, it appears that Abbas plans to do just that. And while Abbas is being motivated by more than just Obama’s words (he has the UN to consider), the reality is this: Obama has made an impression.
Who is the statesman, I ask, who is having a more profound impact on shaping Israel and Palestine’s future? Obama or Netanyahu?
You know the answer.
What is happening right now is playing out exactly as Netanyahu hoped it would not, and exactly how the Palestinians and the White House would like. If the Palestinians indeed form a unity government that recognizes Israel, and Netanyahu does not make a good faith effort to return to the bargaining table according to the Quartet’s demands (and his Congress speech showed he would not), then this is what will likely follow:
1. The Palestinians will be able to say, “Look, we tried. We did what we had to, we got Hamas to recognize the need to negotiate with Israel, to recognize Israel as legitimate, and see where it got us? Our only choice now is the United Nations.”
2. Obama and the administration, which will publicly reject the Palestinians’ United Nations declaration of statehood – a declaration that will be approved – will, in the aftermath, say, “Look, we opposed this. But it is a matter now of international law, and must be respected. A path must be found.”
This stage is being set for both the Palestinians to declare statehood and for the Obama administration to circumvent Netanyahu’s obstructionism. All the while not going toe-to-toe with America’s conservative Israel lobby.
Obama and the Palestinians are about to box Netanyahu in a corner. It will be his move. For Israel’s sake, let us hope that he chooses to keep his word: that he will negotiate with a unity Palestinian government that recognizes Israel.
And who is partially responsible for putting Netanyahu in that corner? Quietly, is is Obama.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: a fantastic write up in Salon by Rashid Khalidi takes a very different view on matters. It is a view with which I disagree, but his perspective is valuable