That Obama detests Netanyahu is common knowledge. What is less well known is that Obama’s personal antipathy towards the prime minister co-exists with a genuine commitment to the welfare and security of the Jewish state.
America has not one but two special relationships: one with Britain and one with Israel. When the two clash, the alliance with Israel usually trumps the one with Britain, as Tony Blair discovered to his cost in 2003. For the sake of the special relationship Blair dragged Britain into a disastrous war in Iraq, but in the aftermath of the war his American allies reneged on their promise to push Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians. Blair was no match to the power of the Israel lobby in the US. With American complicity, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories has now reached its 50th year and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.
American politicians of both parties often use the mantra that the bond with Israel is unbreakable. But Israel’s continuing drift to the right has imposed serious strains on the relations with its principal ally and chief benefactor. In America, Israel is essentially an issue in domestic politics rather than foreign policy. And it is the subject of deep disagreement between the outgoing Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration.
“[Recognizing Palestine] is the best — now, perhaps, the only — means of countering the one-state reality that Israel is imposing on itself and the Palestinian people [and] that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel. — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Dear President Obama:
On November 28, 2016, Jimmy Carter, the President who negotiated the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978, wrote an op ed for the New York Times titled, “America Must Recognize Palestine.” His urgent plea was directed to you to take “the vital step . . . to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership,” before you leave office on January 20, 2017.
Mr. Carter referenced your reaffirmation in 2009 of the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt and United Nations Resolution 242 when you called “for a complete freeze on settlement expansion on Palestinian territory that is illegal under international law.” He noted that in 2011 you made clear that, in your words, “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines” and that “negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”
Over his two terms, during which time thousands of innocent people — the vast majority of whom were Palestinians — were killed in Gaza and the West Bank, Obama purportedly worked to build a “middle ground.” However, the outcome of these policies were quite devastating — he sold Palestinians false hope while granting Israel most of its needs of military funding and technology and at the same time shielding it from international censure.
Fear and trepidation are slowly building up, as US president-elect Donald Trump is fortifying his transitional team with people capable of bringing about a nightmare scenario, not only for the US but for the rest of the world as well.
For Palestinians, however, the signs are even more ominous. From former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to Republican leader Newt Gingrich the Trump team is filling up with dishonorable men who have made careers out of pandering to Israeli interests while discounting Palestinian rights.
In 2011 Gingrich had claimed that Palestinians are “invented” people, while Giuliani — according to the Jewish News Service — “is fondly remembered in the Jewish community for expelling Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from a UN concert at the Lincoln Centre in 1995.”
Considering statements made by Trump last May, that the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank “should keep moving forward,” to more recent comments by Trump’s spokesperson in Israel, Jason Greenblatt, that the illegal land occupations are “not an obstacle to peace,” it is fairly certain that the Trump administration will be decidedly anti-Palestinian and anti-peace.
When everyone believed Clinton was going to be the next president, Obama was rumored to be considering several last-minute options to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. All that went out the window on November 8.
The old peace process is officially toast. The people who led it won’t be part of the next administration. The policies they pursued are the furthest possible from a Trump administration’s agenda — be it isolationist or neo-con/interventionist. A final push on parameters would be a waste of political capital, and might actually cause more harm than good.
The Obama administration is probably trying to figure out how to protect its two signature achievements — Obamacare and the Iranian nuclear deal — for the next two years, when the White House and both chambers of Congress will be under Republican control. But it will also need to revisit other issues, such as a widely discussed final move on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Specifically, the idea of laying out parameters for a final status agreement — either in the form of a major policy speech or via a UN Security Council resolution — might seem out of touch with the new political reality in Washington.
It is extremely difficult to predict what Donald Trump’s actual policies will be — common wisdom is that a weak and poorly informed president depends on the people around and below him — but it’s a pretty safe guess that Trump won’t continue efforts to broker a final agreement on a two-state solution. The GOP removed the very idea of Palestinian statehood from its platform ahead of the elections. Those around Trump have taken positions in favor of West Bank settlements and against previous efforts to push the Israeli government towards a deal with the Palestinians. Others in the president-elect’s circle — probably including Trump himself — have strong isolationist tendencies.
All that should cause the outgoing Obama administration to change its calculations. Much of its thinking on a final push on the peace process was clearly predicated on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. The idea was not that a major policy speech or a UN Security Council resolution on parameters would generate an immediately response on the ground. It might, however, have laid solid groundwork for future negotiations, all while creating options for the next administration that relieved it of the need to spend actual political capital on the issue.
“The military alliance between the United States and Israel has long been at odds with the stated intentions of successive administrations in Washington to foster peace in the Holy Land. One White House after another has preferred the “solution” of having it both ways: supporting a two-state solution while richly rewarding, with lethal weaponry, an incorrigible client state that was working as fast as it could to undermine just such a solution.”
Washington has finally thrown in the towel on its long, tortured efforts to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You won’t find any acknowledgement of this in the official record. Formally, the United States still supports a two-state solution to the conflict. But the Obama administration’s recent 10-year, $38 billion pledge to renew Israel’s arsenal of weaponry, while still ostensibly pursuing “peace,” makes clear just how bankrupt that policy is.
For two decades, Israeli leaders and their neoconservative backers in this country, hell-bent on building and expanding settlements on Palestinian land, have worked to undermine America’s stated efforts—and paid no price. Now, with that record weapons package, the United States has made it all too clear that they won’t have to. Ever.
“For years, liberal American publications have been generally sympathetic to Israel, even when they are criticizing its governments’ policies. Now, in light of an unprecedented New York Times editorial, that attitude might be about to change.”
The New York Times editorial board has realized, about a decade too late, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not care what the Obama administration — or any U.S. administration, for that matter — thinks about his policies regarding the Palestinians.
According to the editorial published Friday, October 7, headlined At the Boiling Point With Israel, the catalyst for this realization was Netanyahu’s decision to approve the building of a new settlement deep in the West Bank, only three weeks after the U.S. finalized a package of military aid for Israel to the tune of an unprecedented $38 billion, spread over 10 years. Israel receives more military aid than any other country, by far: Egypt, which receives $1.31 billion per year, is the second-largest recipient of direct military aid from the United States. [Continue reading here . . . ]
The New York Times Editorial Board
October 6, 2016
“The ever expanding settlements have poisoned Palestinian hopes and functioned variously as a spark, a target and an excuse for violence, intensifying the conflict.”
If the aim of the Israeli government is to prevent a peace deal with the Palestinians, now or in the future, it’s close to realizing that goal. Last week, it approved the construction of a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank, another step in the steady march under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to build on land needed to create a Palestinian state.
The Obama administration, with every justification, strongly condemned the action as a betrayal of the idea of a two-state solution in the Middle East. But Mr. Netanyahu obviously doesn’t care what Washington thinks, so it will be up to President Obama to find another way to preserve that option before he leaves office. [Continue reading . . . ]