June 21, 2011
Apparently, President Barack Obama believes that whenever the Israelis and the Palestinians sit down for peace talks, the holiest site in Judaism — the Western Wall — will be with the Palestinians. I didn’t realize this either, until I listened to some knowledgeable commentators.
It comes down to a careful reading of Obama’s suggested formulation for restarting peace talks: “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” As Jennifer Rubin writes in The Washington Post, “This formulation is a recipe for undermining the Israeli bargaining position.”
Rubin quotes former deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams: “1967 lines with agreed swaps means you’re saying to Israel that ‘You think you have the Western Wall [of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem] as part of Israel, but we don’t … [and] you need to come up with some swaps that Palestinians believe acceptable to keep the Western Wall in Israel.’ ”
This is not just semantics. Obama is saying to Israel: The starting position for future peace talks is that you don’t have the Western Wall, at least not until the Palestinians say you do.
Of course, Obama and his Jewish supporters in high places are hoping — praying? — that not too many people will catch this. So they have launched a major diplomatic offensive to convince us that everything Obama is doing is actually good for Israel.
This will be an uphill battle. Notwithstanding Obama’s many lofty statements about the “unshakable bond” between Israel and the United States, his record of fairness to Israel in peace talks has been shaky — from demanding draconian construction freezes before negotiations even started to the latest precondition on “1967” borders.
As David Horovitz wrote in The Jerusalem Post, “Obama is urging Israel — several of whose leaders have offered dramatic territorial concessions in the cause of peace, and proven their honest intentions by leaving southern Lebanon, Gaza and major West Bank cities, only to be rewarded with new bouts of violence — to give up its key disputed asset, the biblically resonant territory of Judea and Samaria, as stage one of a ‘peace’ process.
“But he is not [explicitly] demanding that the Palestinians — whose leaders have consistently failed to embrace far-reaching peace offers, most notably Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a withdrawal to adjusted ’67 lines and the dividing of Jerusalem — give up their key disputed asset, the unconscionable demand for a Jewish-state-destroying ‘right of return’ for millions, until some vague subsequent stage. …”
As Horovitz laments: “Only a president who ignores or underestimates Palestinian hostility to Israel could propose a formula for reviving negotiations in which he set out those parameters for high-risk territorial compromise without simultaneously making crystal clear that there will be no ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees.”
In my view, that summarizes Obama’s biggest mistake: a vexing pattern of letting Palestinians off the hook and putting serious pressure only on Israel.
Rubin quotes a Capitol Hill Democrat as being “dismayed” by Obama’s lack of evenhandedness: “The perception that Obama’s position on the starting point for Middle East peace talks is the same as Abbas’s is not only hurtful to his support among pro-Israel Democrats, but has not moved us closer to peace.”
What’s crazy is that in his obsession with pressuring Israel, Obama is ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Hamas. Remember when Obama stood at the AIPAC convention last month and called the agreement between Hamas and Fatah an “enormous obstacle to peace”? And when he said Israel “cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist”? And when he demanded that Hamas “accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements”?
That made so much sense: If you’re going to have a precondition for peace talks, wouldn’t recognizing you exist be the natural one?
But that was then, and this is now. Away from the klieg lights of AIPAC, our president has decided that the only precondition to peace talks should be Israel agreeing to the Palestinian opening position on borders.
And Obama wonders why so many people don’t trust him on Israel.
If you ask me, Obama’s nightmare is to be forced to veto the Palestinian initiative at the United Nations in September. This would single him out in dramatic fashion as a supporter and defender of the Jewish state, thus undermining his internationalist agenda. So, in a desperate attempt to avert that moment of truth, he’s putting ridiculous pressure on a great American ally and virtually groveling to entice the rejectionist and conniving Palestinians back to the peace table.
How sad. The most powerful man in the world is afraid to utter these simple words: “Our friend and ally Israel has said repeatedly that it is willing to return to the peace table. We call on the Palestinians to do the same; we call on Hamas to agree to the Quartet conditions; and we call on the world community and the United Nations to endorse an immediate return to peace talks between Israel and a Palestinian partner that does not include a terrorist entity.”
That would have been the right thing to do. Instead, Obama has decided to hand over the Western Wall to the Palestinians as a starting point for negotiations.
The only polite Jewish response that I see is, “No, you can’t.”