Dear Mr. Obama: Here’s a Better Way to Handle the Palestine Resolution

Gershom Gorenberg

My new article is up at The American Prospect:

Dear Mr. Obama,

A clever person succeeds in climbing out of the hole that a wise one avoids falling into. So says a Hebrew adage often applied to national leaders. To my great sorrow, you have already missed the chance to respond wisely to the upcoming Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition. You still have a few days left to be clever. I desperately hope you use them.

You strode into a foreign-policy hole during your Middle East speech last May when you dismissed Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas’s plan to ask for U.N. membership an attempt “to isolate Israel at the United Nations.” If anyone missed your implied threat, a State Department spokesperson made it explicit last week, explaining that if “something comes to a vote in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. will veto.”

This is a mistake several times over. Despite the habitually panicked tones from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian statehood is a gain for Israel. By promising a Security Council veto, you’ve tied your own hands in shaping a resolution that looks certain to pass in the General Assembly, and have harmed America’s ability to broker Israeli-Arab diplomacy.

Read the rest here.


8 thoughts on “Dear Mr. Obama: Here’s a Better Way to Handle the Palestine Resolution”

  1. I won’t join in your chiding the president of the United States, but I do have a comment on the history.

    The Rabin assassination wasn’t the death of the Oslo process; it was its greatest potential blessing. Before the assassination, many erstwhile supporters of the Oslo process (like me, for instance) had concluded that it had become a disaster. Netanyahu led Rabin in public opinion surveys, with a strong majority of Jews preferring Netanyahu to Rabin. Rabin’s Oslo mandate had evaporated.

    Then, Rabin was assassinated. Public opinion swung dramatically in favor of the Oslo process and the Labor Party. It’s pretty shameful for Israeli democracy that public opinion on foreign policy could swing so strongly as the result of a political assassination, but that’s what happened. If Peres had been smart and called elections soon after the assassination, he would have won easily. He would have had a mandate for an even more dovish policy than Rabin’s. If Peres had been on the ball, Rabin’s assassination might have led directly to a peace agreement.

  2. Aaron-
    The supposed “dovish mandate” you granted to post-assassination Peres went up in smoke with the big wave of suicide bombings that followed Rabin’s assassination. That no doubt had an effect on “public opinion on foreign policy” even BIGGER than the “holy legacy of peace” that Rabin supposedly left after him that you seem to think existed.

  3. This column is a very clear display of the despair and desperation of those who invested so much hope in the so-called “peace process” in that the whole thing is based on wishful thinking. Somehow, Obama supporting a Palestinian state will end the Palestinian “right of return of refugees”. How? Who says? Somehow, Jerusalem will be divided and the holy places “placed under international jurisdiction”. How will this work? Abbas has openly rejected any such thing. The writer assumes that “Abbas will have to make more compromises than he has acknowledged publicly”. You mean that he is going to betray promises he made to the Palestinian public for decades in order to make the writer of this piece happy? What about HAMAS? Do they have a say? No mention of that here. Also we are told that “as a state, the Palestinians will be under increasing obligation to prevent terrorism”. We were told the same thing regarding the Oslo Agreements…Arafat had “committed himself to fighting terrorism”. Well, I guess it was a minor detail that he didn’t live up to this. Why should Abbas’s state? The Arab/Muslim world will still back “armed resistance” to the Zionist entity quietly and the Europeans will look the other way, as they have done all these years, under pressure from their Arab oil trading partners.
    As is constantly demonstrated to us, the assumption of the Jewish-Israeli “peace camp” is “Its just gotta be that the Palestinians want the same thing I want”. When asked why, the answer is never given.

  4. The wind of despair and desperation is coming from those who choose ( above) to dredge up selected points about the past and project it forward under the illusion that there is a no risk path or that one can stand still while the world moves. That is wishful thinking.

    Hamas, by the way, is already moving to adjust itself. And it will have to move more, just as the right wing extremists in Israel will, to stay in power.

    As for Obama- I don’t think we wil see any bold moves until his second term. On the other hand he needs to make some bold moves to assure that second term. Unfortunately, I don’t think our Israel policy is going to be critical in the next election and so Obama will kind of coast along in the middle muddle. But the veto at the UN will harm us.

  5. Suzanne-
    We have already seen this movie. Bill Clinton was ready for “bold moves” in his second term. He dragged everyone to Camp David for high-pressure direct negotiations even though Arafat warned him quite openly not to do so. Sure enough, no agreement emerged, but there was the suicide bomber war. Arafat died a hero who didn’t give in.
    Next was Bush. He was ready for “bold moves” in his second term. He convened Annapolis and got direct negotiations between Abbas and Olmert. In spite of the fact that Olmert was willing to give up more than Barak, including handing over the Jewish holy places in Jerusalem and to divide the city, again, there was no agreement. Bernard Avishai interviewed both Abbas and Olmert and wrote about it in a long article in the New York Times.

    Although there was a lot of maneuvering, there as no agreement on any of the major outstanding issues.

    My question is what is gong to be different if Obama gets a second term. The Palestinians are doing everything possible to avoid negotiations because this puts them in a situation where they have their backs to the wall and they have to put up or shut up. Whereas the US is more or less on their side on the territorial issue, the deal-breaker is the “Right of Return” of the refugees which the Palestinians can’t give up, the Israelis can’t accept and the Americans and the Europeans can’t force the Israelis to accept. Thus, stalemate. That is the situation for the foreseeable future, particularly with the “Arab street” having much more power and influence opposing peace with Israel.

  6. I see no reason to expect any changes from the President in the second term. The whole expectation that he’s going to repeat Clinton history is just silly. If anything, he’s more likely than Clinton to realize that without Israeli cooperation the idea of a peace negotiation is a waste of time. That, after all, is why the Palestinians are going to the U. N., isn’t it? The negotiations are going nowhere and Abbas sees the obvious – the governing coalition is keen on expanding settlements in the West Bank, not on any negotiations that might limit them.

    And no matter what President Obama will be condemned – or as Gershom says, he still won’t get any votes as a result of his mainstream reaffirmation of our prior positions at the U.N. Just look at the crazy stuff coming out of Rick Perry as he campaigns for the Republican nomination –

    Basically, he says we should have maintained Mubarak in power, oppressing Egyptians, in the interest of Israeli stability. And because Obama isn’t 100% supporting Israeli positions in negotiations, the President is selling them out and creating a “moral equivalence” between the nation state of Israel and terrorist organizations. I suppose the next step will be criticizing him for failure to conduct “regime change” in Gaza instead of going after rehabilitated Bush allies like Kaddafi.

    Now is the time for bold, new visions to shed the old power relationships built by Nixon and Kissinger and remold our Middle East foreign policy for the 21st century. Sadly, what we’re getting instead is reactionary and backward looking, guaranteed to get the United States just as isolated in the region as Israel is today.

  7. Y. Ben-David-

    Arafat was dragged into the negotiations. He was not ready and afraid that the failure of them would be blamed on him, which it was. Barak began with a very little offer which became “generous” after a lot of pushing and pulling, too late to make a deal. Arafat was not the man to make a deal anyway. Israeli’s voted for their man, Sharon, who would end the negotiations in spite of the progress at Taba and the encouraging Geneva agreement or accord.

    Abbas and Olmert agreed on a lot in principle. What was missing was Olmert’s ability to continue on and bridging proposals, for instance the number of refugees allowed to return can be argued closer. Olmert’s 5000 over 5 years seemed cheap. I did read the article and although there was no agreement on important issues, they were close to it and the willingness was there. But Israeli’s chose Netanyahu. Netanyahu will not stop the settlements. There must be a stop to building settlements- a complete freeze to creating facts on the ground before there can be any negotiations. This would match the fact that Palestinians have already been, more and more, turning away from terrorism and turning towards non-violent forms of resistance. Palestinians are not asking for the removal of settlements yet. But when the bargaining begins again, note that Ariel is smack in the middle of what would be their state. Too bad in Israel if it is going to be tough to remove. Ariel should not have been settled to begin with.

    Netanyahu, like Arafat, does not seem to be the man to make peace. He is too afraid of his extremists, more like Arafat eh?. Maybe he thinks he can prevail longer.

    I think you will see war. Not that I wish it.

    What Obama does or does not do in his second term we can debate. He may be able to stave off the coming violence by somehow pushing Israeli’s to stop settlements (threatening to not veto UN resolutions for instance) to get the sides to the table. I think Abbas patience is running thin.

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