Abbas means, as he wrote in his op-ed, that he wants to pursue claims against Israel at the U.N., before human rights groups bring Israel to the International Court of Justice — all a path for sanctions against the Jewish state. He favors not a peace treaty leading to statehood, but statehood first and then negotiations, including the acceptance of the so-called “right of return.” Of course, as Diehl writes about the Palestinians, their “return to Israel would mean its demise.” In other words, the very deligitimazation of Israel that our president said today must come to an end would be realized.
So when the president starts by announcing his support for the Palestinians’ favored borders in advance of negotiations, he is actually, as Diehl writes, saying that his policy is: “Now we really have to put the screws to Netanyahu.” And he also, in effect, tells American Jews that “Abbas is ready to make peace,” which of course he is not — and this leads to the false conclusion that “Netanyahu is the problem.”
As Diehl concludes:
The record of the past several years suggests something very different. In 2008, Abbas refused to accept a far-reaching peace offer from Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, even as a basis for discussion; nor would he make a counteroffer. “The gaps were wide,” he later told me in an interview. For two years he has stoutly resisted peace talks with Netanyahu, even while conceding that the nominal reason for his intransigence — Israel’s refusal to freeze settlements — was forced on him by Obama.
Abbas’s goal, of trying to transform the Arab Spring into a new mass movement against Israel, is not what President Obama seems to think the outcome of the awakening in the Middle East will lead to. Only one side — that of Fatah and Hamas — is refusing to make the kind of concessions that will lead to peace. This is why the president’s outrageous endorsement of the ’67 borders only emboldens Abbas in his intransigence, and harms the ability of Netanyahu to make necessary concessions for peace.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi wrote that in his speech to the Knesset last week, Netanyahu ended the ideological impasse in Israel about whether or not there should be a two-state solution, and thus positioned “his Likud Party within the centrist majority that seeks to end the occupation of the Palestinians but is wary of the security consequences. There is no longer any major Israeli party that rejects a West Bank withdrawal on ideological grounds. Instead, the debate is now focused where most Israelis want it to be: on how to ensure that a Palestinian state won’t pose an existential threat to their country.”
To obtain support for this far-reaching concession, “Israel, he said, would insist on retaining the large settlement blocs near the 1967 border — and not, therefore, the smaller, isolated settlements outside the blocs. Israel, he added, would also insist on a military presence in the Jordan Valley — and not, therefore, on retaining settlements there.” Obama’s insistence on the ’67 borders, of course, interferes with precisely this decision of Netanyahu. Halevi writes:
None of this is likely to happen anytime soon. Mr. Netanyahu’s concessions aren’t enough to meet minimal Palestinian demands — and for now at least that hardly matters. Conditions for a resumption of negotiations, let alone for an agreement, couldn’t be worse. With the genocidal Hamas now aligned with the Palestinian Authority, and with PA head Mahmoud Abbas insisting on some form of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, not even Israel’s opposition party, Kadima, would be able to reach a deal.
True, and that is why President Obama’s speech, despite its florid vision of two peoples living in peace, is so dangerous. The president spoke as if it is Israel, and not Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, who is the obstacle to his desired two-state solution. Hence, if the Arab-Israeli conflict is not to “cast a shadow over the region” anymore, that means there should be a U.S. policy that puts pressure where it should be put — on the Palestinian Authority and not on Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel, as Halevi puts it, will cede the right of return of Jews to a greater Israel in return for Palestinians ceding the right of return of their refugees to greater Palestine. The pragmatic hawks in power in Israel today are willing to do this; the ideological extremists of Hamas and the PA are not. Netanyahu is indeed willing to cede land for peace; the Palestinians seem instead to be ready for all-out war against Israel in defense of gaining all of old Palestine for themselves.
As we prepare to listen to President Obama’s forthcoming speech to AIPAC this coming Sunday morning, do not expect a massive ovation and cheers for the president from what is likely to be a a most skeptical and demanding audience.