When President Obama took office, the prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli peace were exceedingly remote. More puzzling than his initial decision to plunge headfirst into peacemaking was that the strategy he employed – focusing on an Israeli settlement freeze – guaranteed that no progress would be made.
The Obama administration apparently believed that insisting on a freeze would help restore confidence in America’s ability to be impartial while giving a jolt to the dormant peace process. When the initial 10-month moratorium on Israeli settlement activity ended in September, it was plain to see that Obama’s strategy was not working. Even worse, it strained U.S. relations with all sides, without any progress along the pathway to peace.
Instead of learning from this policy blunder and finding another route to the negotiating table, President Obama is compounding his mistakes by publicly demanding another 90-day extension of the freeze, reportedly in exchange for 20 F-35 fighter jets worth $3 billion, a guarantee that the U.S. will veto unilateral Palestinian initiatives at the United Nations (such as a PA plan to achieve international recognition of a Palestinian state), and a promise that the White House will not request any further extensions of the settlement freeze. In doing so, President Obama is dangerously linking unrelated policy matters.
The U.S. has a long history of objecting to anti-Israeli resolutions in international forums not as a favor to Jerusalem but because such resolutions are counterproductive and one-sided. Moreover, Israel’s security in the Middle East has long been a staple of American foreign policy but now Obama is linking it to Israeli construction.
The White House apparently does not understand the current political realities in the Middle East. And it is foolhardy to believe that making the same mistake twice will yield better results. The Palestinian Authority squandered the opportunity for direct negotiations during the 10-month moratorium so there is no reason to think another three months will change anything.
Yet, even if Obama succeeded and direct negotiations commenced, they would fall apart once Palestinians present their redlines for a final status agreement. That is because the problem is not Israeli settlements. The problem is that the PA does not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Until there is a fundamental change in Palestinian redlines – such as the demand for the full return of Palestinian refugees to Israel – the current approach will likely prove as fruitless (if not, dangerous) as all previous efforts to achieve peace.