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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Obama's double-or-nothing moment in the Middle East

By Jackson Diehl

The latest collapse of the Middle East peace process has underlined a reality that the Obama administration has resisted since it took office -- that neither the current Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority shares its passion for moving quickly toward a two-state settlement. And it has left President Obama with a tough choice: quietly shift one of his prized foreign policy priorities to a back burner -- or launch a risky redoubling of U.S. efforts.

Israelis and Palestinians have conducted face-to-face peace talks off and on for 18 years without agreeing on the issue of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet the prospect for a renewal of the negotiations that began in September collapsed Tuesday after the Obama administration was forced to announce the abandonment of its latest effort to strike a deal with the government of Binyamin Netanyahu on settlements. Netanyahu agreed in principle to a three-month partial freeze of building in the West Bank but demanded that the White House put its quid pro quo -- including $3 billion worth of advanced warplanes -- in writing. Meanwhile, the Palestinians preemptively announced that the deal wouldn't be good enough for them to end their walkout from the talks, because it didn't include Jerusalem.

As I have pointed out before, the settlements are mostly not material to a deal on a Palestinian state, since both sides accept that the majority of them will be annexed to Israel in exchange for land elsewhere. The issue has become an obstacle in large part because of Obama's misguided placement of emphasis on it, which forced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to embrace a hard line.

But the fact that the administration has been unable to take the issue off the table -- even after offering gold-plated bribes to Israel in exchange for a 90-day freeze -- reflects the fact that both sides are happy to have an excuse not to talk to each other.

Abbas has resisted negotiating with Netanyahu ever since he took office early last year, saying he doesn't believe the right-wing Israeli leader will ever offer serious peace terms. But Abbas also turned down a far-reaching offer from Netanyahu's predecessor; and he's never spelled out his own terms for a settlement. By now it should be obvious: at age 75, he prefers ruling a quiet West Bank to going down in history as the Palestinian leader who granted final recognition to a Jewish state.

Netanyahu has made an effort to show that he is ready to negotiate seriously about Palestinian statehood. But the terms he has talked about -- including a long-term Israeli military presence on the West Bank -- are considerably more stringent than those Abbas already turned down. Even the suggestion by Netanyahu that he would consider concessions such as a division of Jerusalem would probably cause the collapse of his right-wing coalition.

U.S. officials are saying that they will continue to talk to the two sides separately, beginning with meetings next week in Washington with aides to Netanyahu and Abbas. They say they will set the settlement issue aside, and -- as Arab leaders have been urging both in public and private -- focus on the more fundamental issues of a final settlement.

Yet Obama will not meet his goal of an agreement on Palestinian statehood by next August through indirect talks. So this impasse presents him with a choice: He can slow the pace and ambition of his Mideast diplomacy, bowing to the reality that, as former Secretary of State James Baker famously put it, the United States cannot want peace more than the parties themselves. That would give U.S. and Israeli officials time to quietly continue working with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, who is trying to build the tangible institutions and security forces needed for statehood.

Or Obama could do what Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah have wanted all along: prepare a U.S. or international plan for Palestinian statehood and try to impose it on both sides. History -- including that of the last two years -- suggests that double-or-nothing bet would produce a diplomatic fiasco for Obama and maybe a new war in the Middle East. But given Obama's personal fascination with Middle East diplomacy, there's a reasonable chance he'll try it.

By Jackson Diehl  | December 8, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Comments


Another whining, disgusting lying, threatening bragadocio
column on Israel's efforts

by another of the zionist blabbers at WaPo

Israel calls Palestine "greater Israel".

Has no, has never had any, will nevevr l one stolen inch go. Nor the Golan Heights, also illegally occupied.

Israel will have to be bombed into sand. And it will be.
And how the world will cheer!


Posted by: whistling | December 8, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Jackson Diehl is brought to you by AIPAC - America's Pro-Israel lobby.

Posted by: areyousaying | December 8, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Whether the Pals will accept Israel confiscating the land on which its colonies sit is open to question. Yes, they negotiated in the past, but the US had all along taken the position that the colonies are illegal. Even Israel's own legal experts said as much, as far back as 1967.

But even worse is the President's failure to stand up to The Israel Lobby. Imagine it: a foreign nation utterly dependent on US aid for its very existence dictates foreign policy to us through its Washington lobby. The rest of the world now knows that the USA must obtain permission from Israel on whatever matter Israel chooses.

If traitors like Eric Cantor put Israel ahead of America, why should any other American give a rat's posterior about the USA?

Posted by: Garak | December 8, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Wikileaks revealed ALL of America's Arab allies (Eygpt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States) are strongly urging a military strike on Iran !

Wikileaks revealed whenever the feckless Obama team met with Arab leaders... they wanted to talk about Palestinians, but the Arab leaders ? Iran !

Who knew ?

Can't we blame Israel ? the Jews ?

With the breakdown of peace negotiations and the continuing feckless Iran nuke talks... Obama's Middle East foreign policy is now broken.

Maybe Biden was right about Obama ?

Posted by: pvilso24 | December 8, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

RE: "As I have pointed out before, the settlements are mostly not material to a deal on a Palestinian state, since both sides accept that the majority of them will be annexed to Israel in exchange for land elsewhere. The issue has become an obstacle in large part because of Obama's misguided placement of emphasis on it, which forced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to embrace a hard line."

Just b/c you were BSing before doesn't mean it was correct then or now. The Israelis are running out the clock and purposely building on Palestinian land they want to keep. They want to make it a fait accompli so that is where negotiations start.

To posit that President Obama is to blame for the Palestinians wanting to prevent this is obviously ludicrous. The whole Middle East question is over land and who controls it. This land is the most desired of all the land in question. Of course the Palestinians don't want permanent Jewish construction on it. Wake up we are not stupid even if we live in the US.

Posted by: FoundingMother | December 8, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

no, but he called their bluff on the phoney security issue.

Posted by: kennytal | December 8, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Zionist propaganbda - dihel and CO. - claims humanity wants to destroy israel which is a lie.
Humanity wants to transform apartheid israel to democratic israel. Mandela,
desmond tutu, Carter and all decent human beings agree that israel is an apartheid facist regime.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | December 8, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Quietly assure the Palestinian delegation that Israel might soon be their problem alone.
Quietly assure the Israeli delegation that Iran might soon be their problem alone.
We do not have to be nice to these people, they are not Republicans.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | December 8, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Only if there is WILL there will be a WAY
Since last 40+ years America is shedding crocodiles tears for the oppressed position and sufferings of Palestinians in particular and all middle east population in general. But the super power has no real will power to resolve the matter amicably using honest, impartial, just an...d fair diplomacy rather it has always appeased the oppressors and occupiers against the oppressed and hopeless Palestinians.
This policy has not helped Israel except to grab more land illegally; getting isolation in the world and taking hatred of 1.5 billion Muslims and creating Hamas and Hizbullahs. In reward, America received 9/11, Iraq war, Afghan War and very soon we will be involved in Iran war.
If really Obama and Hillary wants to show their face; they have to stop playing this game for a while and decide seriously whether we want to resolve this issue or not. If yes, we will have to design a formula where Israel and Palestinians both must pay dearly for their fault and delay. Yes, the penalty should be applicable to both fairly and wisely. The penalty can be in terms of dollars and land and other political help. If our elected representatives do not want to help Palestinians, NO ONE ON THIS GLOBE CAN RESOLVE THIS ISSUE. BUT THE END RESULT WILL BE ONLY ONE ONE NATION SOLUTION WHERE BOTH JEWS AND ARABS WILL KILL EACH OTHER FOR CENTURIES AND AMERICA WILL PAY PRICE DEARLY FIGHTING NOT ONLY TALIBANS BUT MANY OTHER MILITANT GOONS.

Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | December 8, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I dont understand why Mr. Jackson Diehl is blaming the Palestinian for the failure in the peace talk. I would like to ask him how he would like in the middle of the night to have some squatters kick him out on the street from his house regardless of how many children live in the house. These squatters are hearthless people, to them stealing is no big deal

Posted by: capskip | December 8, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Neither the palestinians not the israeli jews will renounce Jerusalem.
This is obvious.
Being so..,it is impossible to reach a deal between the 2 sides.
Now there is peace.
US should continue to support Israel and try to improve the lives of the palestinians namely in Gaza ,
US should not recognize palestine in the 1967 borders since that does include east jerusalem a placed sacred for the jews.

Posted by: Peter42y | December 8, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

it's a sputnik moment allright,not just to the vacum of the space of policies,aftermath and "predicted" blowback iether,

Posted by: ampjack1 | December 8, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Completely wasted commentary Jackson. The Palestinians really need some help here and the US is again turning its back.

Posted by: acidemia | December 8, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised by the virulence of the anti israel attacks.
Israel grabbed land illegaly ? How many countries did acquire land Legally ?
The US did acquire land legally when the colonizers start moving west ?
Russia expanded its frontiers because it did buy legally land to poland ?
The borders of the countries were shaped by force .
Same did happen with small Israel.
Why Israel is blamed for conquering land illegally when everybody else shaped its borders throughout history by force ?
I wonder if Saddam ofensive against the Kurds back in the 80s was ever considered illegal by the international community .
I do not think so.
Russia keeps its grip on Chechnya..,China on Tibet.., Kurds are denied an Home by Turkey and Iran and in a lesser extent Iraq.., but only Israel behaviour seems to enrage the righteous of this world.
Israel is a small nation encroached in a sea of Muslim states.
Israel managed to survive despite the attacks by its neighbors.
That should be taken into account when analyzing the settlement issue.
I do not mean that everything Israel does is right.
I completely criticized israel onslaught against Gaza a few years ago.
Senseless violence in which many innocents palestinians , namely children , died.
But on the other hand Israel is not the devil just because they do not want to give away jerusalem a place deemed sacred by the world jewry.

Posted by: Peter42y | December 8, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Blah, blah, blah...Doesn't anyone read History anymore? There has NEVER been "peace in the Middle East", and the Obama Administration is not going to make it happen on their watch. Whole generations of striped-pants State Department wonks have negotiated their hearts out their entire careers and retired to their rest and nothing has happened there for the better. The best plan was hatched by a friend of mine a few years ago: build a high wall around the entire region, with no gates. Catipult pallets of ammunition over the wall on a daily basis until the shooting stops. An elegant solution, and he didn't even get a Nobel Peace Prize out of it!

Posted by: dkaag | December 8, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

No thanks, Diehl, you lost your Middle-East cred going back, at least, to 2003:

"As an editor and columnist, Diehl advocated the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Post's early tenor of approval for the war has been attributed to his influence."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Diehl

Posted by: goyo1588 | December 8, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

No thanks, Diehl, you lost your Middle-East cred going back, at least, to 2003:

"As an editor and columnist, Diehl advocated the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Post's early tenor of approval for the war has been attributed to his influence."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Diehl

Posted by: goyo1588 | December 8, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

No thanks, Diehl, you lost your Middle-East cred going back, at least, to 2003:

"As an editor and columnist, Diehl advocated the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Post's early tenor of approval for the war has been attributed to his influence."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Diehl

Posted by: goyo1588 | December 8, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Why all the venom at Diehl? Everyone knows his views. He and Hiatt speak for the owners. It was Obama who caved to Netanyahu. He timed it so it would be hidden by his caving on taxes. No doubt, he will cave to Israel on Iran, likely in an effort to persuade Limbaugh to vote for him because he is strong on security.

Let us hope that Carville is not right about liberals as well as about Obama. Let us hope that some of them organize a party, not just a meaningless primary challenge where Obama's black base is too numerous. At a minimum, we desperately need to open up the struggle in the party against the conservative New Democrats leading up to the 2016 election.

Posted by: jhough1 | December 8, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Look, a large portion of the world is gonna hate Israel no matter what it does just because. My advice to Israel is use that to your advantage. Stop playing nice and solve it the only way evryone knows it is gonna end.

Pack up each and every Palestinian and their belongings, go ahead and shoot the ones who resist (always a few hardheads), and drop them all in their new homeland, Lebenon. Those of you feeling guilty (no need to really, but ok) can send'em money, seeds, building supplies, etc.

Yeah, the UN will pass resolutions, some nations will impose sactions and you won't get to sit at the cool kids table for a while. And once every 40-50 years they'll work themselves into a frenzy and attack, but by and large this problem will be overwith.

Posted by: majcsmith | December 8, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse


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Posted by: zhengee25 | December 8, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

War as we know it now is too easy. Why spend resources for a peace that will be much the same or even worse?

What a hangover to expect.

Reality to face and vain hopes gone away.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | December 9, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Diehl would better serve his readers if he presented facts rather than Zionist AIPAC talking points, as he always does. Israel doesn't want peace with the Palestinians, today or ever. Netanyahu, Lieberman, Arad, etc. have rejected all final status issues: borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. All Israel wants is to continue stealing more Palestinian land and water and the U.S. doesn't have the backbone to stand up to Israel and its wealthy, rabid lobby. We should cut off all aid to apartheid Israel and become an honest broker for peace in the Middle East.

Posted by: raygordon2008 | December 9, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

My, my, my! Judging from the absolute *hysteria* from the blindly anti-Israel/Jew-hater crowd (the overlap grows apace), I see that Mr. Diehl's assessment has hit them very close to home! The usual lies about land-stealing, apartheid & genocide always seem to erupt with a force directly equal to the weight of the truths being told. Good job, Mr. Diehl - keep it coming!

Posted by: Fed_Up1 | December 10, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

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