The United States has implicitly admitted its “peace talks” strategy has fallen to pieces and apparently has drafted Labor party chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Opposition leader Tzipi Livni to try to meet more Palestinian Authority demands.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Saban Forum in Washington Friday night that the Obama administration is dropping an 18-month old strategy of forcing a freeze in building of new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria as a way to bring Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to talk directly with Israel. The talks are supposed to center on on the establishment of the PA as a state within Israel’s current borders.
“It is time to grapple with the core issues of the conflict: on borders and security, settlements, water and refugees, and on Jerusalem itself,” she said, reverting to the strategy the US was following two years ago. She placed most of the blame for the US diplomatic failure on Israel’s shoulders, adding in a stinging phrase that “the Palestinian leaders must be able to show their people that the occupation will be over.”
Her comment implicitly denies the overriding importance of Israeli demands for its security forces to protect the country from a PA entity.
After the speech, she met privately both with Barak, the “odd man out” in an otherwise relatively nationalist government coalition, and Livni. US President Barack Obama and his officials have made several moves the past year to try to strengthen Barak, such as promising funds for his favored defense systems, and have been attempting to bring Livni into a coalition in order to make Israel meet PA demands for its proposed state.
Similar to previous offers of concessions following high-level talks with American officials, Barak delivered the goods, telling the Saban Forum that Jerusalem should be divided. He said that Israel should retain certain Jerusalem neighborhoods, which he did not name, while surrendering the rest of the disputed part of the city. He also accepted the principle of giving up sovereignty over all of the Old City, which includes the Temple Mount, the most sacred Jewish site in the world.
An “anonymous” official in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office hurriedly told the Associated Press Sunday morning that Barak’s comments, although he is a member of the coalition, do not reflect government policy.
Livni also shared Clinton’s limelight, sitting down with her in her office for one hour, the first time the United States has hosted her in Washington since she was unable to form a coalition government after the general elections two years ago.
Clinton reiterated previous statements that the United States would not force a peace plan on Israel, but her strategy of tackling core issues, along with Barak’s “divide Jerusalem” comment, appear to indicate the American line of thinking. President Obama previously has labeled a Jewish presence in PA-claimed areas of Jerusalem as “illegitimate” and has called certain Jewish neighborhoods in the capital “settlements.”
An increasing number of analysts who formerly backed the “peace talks track” have admitted they are derailed and cannot be resumed. Aaron David Miller, a former peace negotiator who is now a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told The New York Times. “There’s a real danger, given our track record, that once again we’re making promises we can’t fulfill."
In Israel, Danny Dayan, chairman of The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (Yesha), said that Clinton’s speech was an admission of failure. He explained, "The Obama administration erred by demanding a building freeze and now continues to make mistakes by stating demands for Israel to surrender Judea and Samaria as a way to achieve peace. We have gone this route for 18 years and we have reaped only frustration and violence."
The Obama administration’s Middle East polices also have been derided by reporters, including, surprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. After warning two years ago that President Obama would not get anywhere in the Middle East with his peace plans, he wrote Sunday, “The people running Israel and Palestine have other priorities. It is time we left them alone to pursue them — and to live with the consequences.”
After criticizing the United States for trying to “bribe” Israel with aid in return for an agreement with the PA, Friedman turned his guns on Abbas. “Here’s some free advice: When America goes weak, if you think the Chinese will deliver Israel for you, you’re wrong. I know China well. It will sell you out for a boatload of Israeli software, drones and microchips so fast that your head will spin,” Friedman wrote.