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Daily Israel Report

‘Direct Talks May ‘Make or Break’ Obama

As Netanyahu and Abbas rehearse rhetoric, the political magnifying glass is focusing on Obama, caught between sinking polls and Mideast reality
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/30/2010, 9:57 PM / Last Update: 8/30/2010, 9:50 PM

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All eyes are becoming focused on U.S. President Barack Obama as Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders practice their rhetoric before Thursday’s scheduled “direct talks,” which for the time being will span only one day.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised his Likud party supporters Monday, “You don't need to worry… Who knows better than you what Likud is willing to do to achieve eternal peace? Real peace is not the break between wars or the break between one terror attack and the next."

On the other side, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad asked, “What kind of state does Mr. Netanyahu have in mind when he says 'Palestinian state'?" We are approaching that moment of reckoning.”

The American strategy for years has been to encourage talks that would implement the theory of “adaptive expectation,” whereby anticipation of an event—in this case a peace pact—causes it to happen.

The script so far has not worked out that way. Israel and PA have been blaming each other for what an overwhelming majority of Israelis, Arabs and media analysts expect to be failure by the United States to advance the "diplomatic process” for establishing a new Arab country on the land of eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria.

Despite American claims that it cannot make peace for Israel and the PA, direct intervention by President Obama is the "single most important indicator" in the outcome of Thursday’s events, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer. He told the French news agency AFP, "We know from past experience and recent experience that if we leave these two sides alone, there's no way they're going to bridge their differences. So the only difference is going to be whether or not the United States puts forward ideas.”

PA sources said last week that President Obama outrightly threatened to halt funding for the Ramallah-based government if Abbas did not stop insisting that Israel meet his demand for an extension of the 10-month building freeze in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for direct talks."

With the building freeze expiring September 26, President Obama is bringing Jordanian and Egyptian leaders to Washington to help pressure Israel, but no one outside of the American government expresses optimism.

“Obama realizes that he is unable to do anything and that his invitation for direct talks will turn out to be nothing more than a public relations campaign,' Ghazi Rababaa, political science professor at the University of Jordan, told the German Press Agency DPA. "The U.S. president's real objective behind calling direct talks at this juncture is to improve his Democratic Party's chances in the coming congressional elections and to prop up his retreating popularity.”

With the American economy facing a “double dip” recession and with unemployment showing no signs of receding, foreign policy is President Obama’s only limb that has not fallen. He has triumphantly announced that he has withdrawn troops from Iraq, but 50,000 Americans remain to help Iraqi soldiers fight terror that has not abated while the Baghdad government is in paralysis.

“The risk for Obama comes in defining expectations on pursuits that can fall apart at any time, often over events outside his control,” an Associated Press analysis stated Monday.

The United States also faces a credibility problem with the Palestinian Authority, where the government headed by Abbas has been extended definitely and without elections.

The pessimism from the Arab world was summed up by analyst Tony Karon, who wrote in the UAE-based The National, “The real importance of this week’s talks is the symbolic sense of the United States taking ownership of the issue.

“An old line on the two-state peace in Washington, sometimes repeated by Obama administration officials, holds that the United States ‘cannot want this more than the parties themselves do.’ If anything, the process launched this week will prove that the reverse is true: unless the United States is prepared to join with international partners and impose a two-state solution, Mr. Obama is in fact presiding over its funeral.”

One other factor that has been largely ignored is Gaza, where Hamas took control in a military coup three years ago. Tariq A. Al Maeena, a Saudi socio-political commentator wrote Monday in the Tehran Times, “First there were the indirect talks. Now, direct talks are to begin between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the Israelis. But that is all what it is. Talks, talks and more talks!

“The upcoming direct talks in Washington may lead to a Palestinian ‘state' that will resemble Gaza-like enclaves declared ‘unoccupied' and subjected to brutal repression. Critically translated, these talks would either cement the recognition of Israeli West Bank colonization, the preservation of Israel's right to discriminate against non-Jews, and the creation of more sealed-off, ‘autonomous' Palestinian homelands. 

“The people of Gaza should hold no high hopes of expectations that the ‘direct' talks with the Benjamin Netanyahu administration would provide any relief. Such talks are simply props Israel uses on the world's stages to divert attention from their designs of full occupation and extermination, and everything else is damned.”