Ted BelmanThe author is a retired attorney and the editor of Israpundit. In 2009 he made aliya and is now living in Jerusalem.
Barack Obama, when running for President the first time, surrounded himself with a host of vehemently anti-Israel advisors including Lee Hamilton, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Gen Jones, many of whom advocated imposing a solution on Israel.
In his second administration, Samantha Power is U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Chuck Hagel is Secretary of Defense and Martin Indyk is one of the peace process facilitators and all of them support pre-’67 lines plus swaps and wouldn’t be averse to imposing such a solution on Israel.
Obama also made common cause - right from the beginning - with Jewish leftists, represented by J Street and Israel Policy Forum, who were urging him to increase the pressure on Israel and if that didn’t work, to impose a solution..
So it was no surprise that he started his first term of office by attacking Israel, by declaring that all settlements were illegitimate and demanding a complete settlement construction freeze east of the j"Green Line" (1949 Armistice Line, ed.), including in Jerusalem.
He went so far as to repudiate the US commitment set out in the Bush letter of 2004 to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, declaring there was no agreement. Elliot Abrams and others involved in the negotiations which led to the letter, testified otherwise.
This letter affirmed, inter alia, that “as part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.” Noticeably absent was any reference to the Saudi Plan, which required full withdrawal to the 1949 arbitrary armistice lines. The letter also contained a commitment that ”the United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan”.
By repudiating this letter as a U.S. commitment, Pres Obama opened the way for a settlement to be imposed according to the Saudi Plan, rather than Res 242. He has since come out in support of a solution based on the pre-‘67 lines plus swaps.
He had set a goal of achieving an agreement within two years. He failed to do so in four years, but did make progress.
He forced PM Netanyahu to agree to a two-state solution, which he did in his Bar Ilan speech - providing the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state and agree to be demilitarized. Even with these provisos, this was the first time a Likud prime minister agreed to a two-state solution.
These terms leave very little wiggle room, so it did not matter that President Obama agreed to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that there be no pre-conditions or that negotiations would not start where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left off.
He also got Netanyahu to agree to a temporary construction freeze, not nearly what he was demanding, but enough to enable him to get Abbas and the Arab League to agree to the proximity talks.
The U.S. managed to accomplish this by sending a document to the Palestinian Authority responding to their enquires which provided, “We expect both parties to act seriously and in good faith. If one side, in our judgment, is not living up to our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly to overcome that obstacle.”
The document also committed the US to “sharing messages between the parties and offering our own ideas and bridging proposals.” and reiterated “Our core remains a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian State with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967,”
This commitment by the U.S. was a determining factor in the Palestinian’s and the Arab League’s decision to agree to the U.S. proposal on indirect talks. Nothing came of them.
After a 7 hour meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu, on November 12, 2010, a joint press release was put out which provided:
“"The United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”
Some pundits have suggested that Netanyahu agreed to this, but it is clearly not the case.
The US position was clear. Israel must return all "occupied territories" or their equivalent, rather than some territories as was the original intention of Res 242, the only binding resolution which applies.
When the Arab League announced their support, their Secretary General said;
“We intend in four month’s time to bring back the whole of the peace process to the Security Council, thus ending the role of honest broker role played so far by the US and to put an end to the peace process.
“We will put the results of the talks before the Security Council and then ask this important body in charge of maintaining peace and security to decide on the steps forward.”
This in effect would abrogate the Res 242, the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap, which heretofore have been considered binding.
Pursuant to Article 33, of the United Nations Charter, members, Israel included, who are ”parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice” and the Security Council “shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.”
Israel could well be ordered to submit to arbitration or judicial settlement. Perhaps this is the reason PM Netanyahu kept reaffirming Israel’s desire to negotiate when approached by Secretary Kerry.
The Security Council has the “”primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”. In fact, Article 37 provides, “If the Security Council deems that the continuance of the dispute is in fact likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, it shall decide whether to take action under Article 36 or to recommend such terms of settlement as it may consider appropriate.” Chapter VII gives the Security Council the right to enforce these recommendations.
You can be sure that the Arab League is well aware of these provisions. It is highly doubtful that the US will veto any such move. In fact the Obama administration keeps repeating that failure to arrive at a settlement is a danger to world peace.
They are laying the groundwork for such action by the Security Council.
The EU is already on board. European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, told a British audience, in July 2009,
“After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution,”
“It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimize the end of claims.”
“If the parties are not able to stick to it [referring to the UN-imposed timetable -ed.], then a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table.”
Solana added that the UN-imposed “two-state solution” should include resolution of issues such as control over Israel’s capital, the city of Jerusalem, as well as border definitions, security arrangements and the “right of return” by millions of foreign descendants of Arab refugees who abandoned their homes during the 1948 war.
Kerry recently made it clear, ”The US can’t afford to stay on the sidelines.”. Furthermore when he met this week with a small group of American Jewish leaders at the White House, he warned them that Israel “faces the threat of diplomatic isolation” and said he fears for Israel’s future. Obviously this is a veiled warning from the White House that Israel can’t count on American support at the UN and elsewhere if she fails to reach a deal.
What we know for sure is that Abbas has insisted that negotiations must be based on pre-’67 lines plus swaps and he has Obama’s support on this.
Netanyahu is thus faced with the task of making the best deal he can in the current negotiations for fear of a worse deal being imposed. Of course he can reject any attempts by the UN to do so.This could subject Israel to sanctions and to UN military action.
This time around there are no terms of reference. But apparently, private assurances and letters have been given to each side to get them to the table. What we know for sure is that Abbas has insisted that negotiations must be based on pre-’67 lines plus swaps and he has Obama’s support on this. On the other hand, Netanyahu has not agreed to such condition - as far as we know.
Most pundits agree that the talks will go nowhere unless Obama forces both sides to make compromises, so far as he is able. Even that might not be enough.
On July 31, the White House/State Department held a briefing on the matter and offered very little to advance our understanding of the how these talks are going to go forward except to say:
“And I would emphasize that we are there as a facilitator. These are direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But I think everybody understands we have an indispensable role to play in that process as we go forward.”
So the question is, “How does a facilitator play an indispensable role?” Perhaps the terms of reference agreed to in Obama’s first term, above set out are an indication.
In any event it is clear that if Israel doesn’t reach an agreement, the US will allow the UN to impose one.