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Middle East Peace Talks Degenerate into Farce

Obama sabotaged the peace process from the outset, largely through his own incompetence.

by
Benjamin Kerstein

Bio

October 20, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Obama’s failure in this regard is not merely the result of the fact that he pushed for negotiations when conditions were far from ideal. In fact, Obama sabotaged the peace process from the outset, largely through his own incompetence. By opening his presidency with a demand for an Israeli settlement freeze, including in Jerusalem and its environs, he pushed both parties into a corner. Netanyahu could not agree to such a freeze without endangering his governing coalition, and Abbas could not negotiate without it. As a result, demands on both parties were too high before negotiations even began. The impasse at which we now find ourselves is the inevitable outcome.

The short-term consequences of the current malaise, however, are not particularly sanguine for Israel. Thus far, Obama has demanded next to nothing of the Palestinians, and he seems unlikely to do so in the future. As such, his next step will likely be to further pressure Israel for concessions of some kind. Netanyahu, however, has conceded all that he can without toppling his own government, and since pressure from Obama serves only to strengthen the prime minister’s support among the Israeli public, he has no motivation of any kind to acquiesce to it.

A great deal, of course, depends on the November midterm elections in the United States. If Obama is handed a truly epochal defeat at the polls, he may moderate his stance toward Israel in the face of a hostile Congress and for fear of further alienating Jewish voters. On the other hand, and this seems more in keeping with Obama’s character, he may well react defensively to defeat, and return to his political base with renewed fervor. The president, after all, is not a man who reacts particularly well to proof of his own shortcomings. If this does prove to be the case, Obama and Netanyahu may be headed for another in their long series of confrontations.

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Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor who lives in Tel Aviv.
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