Jonathan Tobin identifies the problem with President Obama’s pre-emptive media strike against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu:
President Obama may have thought he was being very clever ambushing Prime Minister Netanyahu with scathing comments about Israeli policies that would be published just before he arrived in the United States for a meeting at the White House and to speak at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). By slamming Netanyahu’s policies as the primary, if not the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East, in the now infamous interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the president put the Israeli on the defensive and undermined his attempts to rally support for his positions with both AIPAC members and Congress. That should also have made it more difficult for Netanyahu to resist American pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to help the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry succeed. But the president’s move had to leave those who have actually been following the talks with the Palestinians scratching their heads.
Kerry’s current objective is to get both parties to agree to a framework for continued talks. As has been widely reported, Netanyahu has already signaled his consent to the framework even though he and his Cabinet have grave misgivings about where the talks may eventually lead. By contrast, the Palestinians have repeatedly and publicly rejected the framework. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the framework’s requirement that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say they agree to end the conflict rather than merely pause it. They also reject the West Bank security guarantees included in the framework even though it also contains their basic demands about a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 borders while leaving open the possibility of territorial swaps. In other words, the Israelis have already given Kerry what he wanted while the Palestinians have done the opposite. Yet Obama still treats Israel as the truant and lauds Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a trustworthy warrior for peace even though his government is a font of incitement for hatred against Jews and Israelis and he has repeatedly rejected every previous offer of statehood because he and his people remain unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
By speaking in this manner about Israel, Obama has pleased the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Jewish critics and Israel-bashers everywhere. But it will also do something else that perhaps the president never intended. He has killed any chance that Kerry’s peace talks could possibly succeed.
The problem isn’t Israel (although they’ve made the situation tougher to resolve in several ways): the problem is that no Palestinian leader dares to accept any proposal that explicitly accepts Israel’s right to exist. If Abbas agreed to that, Abbas himself would probably cease to exist in short order. Arafat at the height of his power didn’t dare to take that step, and no Palestinian leader since Arafat has had as much control, power, or influence among the factions and groups that loosely form Palestine politically. This is known to the American government — it can hardly be much of a secret — but for political reasons it can’t be stated. If one side cannot possibly agree, then in the looking glass world of diplomacy, you must berate the other side for their intransigence. It doesn’t matter who is President … this is the reality that must be ignored or wished away (because it’s not going away on its own).