Obama Series III: Next, Locusts?
Obama Series III: Next, Locusts?

Can anything else possibly go wrong for the Obama administration's Middle East policy?  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has twice reversed herself publicly on her attitude toward the Israeli settlements. Palestinians have refused her direct request to rejoin peace talks with Israel, and Palestinian Authority president Abbas has said he will not run for reelection.

U.S.-Israel relations are in a state of frozen mistrust, [especially after the administration’s pronouncements against building in Gilo, home to 40,000 and a residential neighborhood within Jerusalem’s municipal borders  built on land purchased by Jews before WWII, ed.]. The New York Times and Washington Post, among others, are calling Obama's policy a complete failure -- in news stories as well as editorials. The only thing

Obama's policy is a complete failure -- in news stories as well as editorials.

missing is a plague of locusts....

George Mitchell's trips to the region are increasingly reminiscent of the Colin Powell visits in 2002 and 2003 -- producing little but embarrassment. The Israeli "100 percent settlement freeze" and the Arab outreach to Israel, early goals of the Obama team, are now forgotten, as is an early resumption of serious Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

These disasters are mostly the product of an ignorant and belligerent attitude toward Israel and especially its prime minister. The ignorance was most evident in the administration's view that a total construction freeze could be imposed not only in every settlement but in Jerusalem itself. But the U.S. policy was worse: We demanded a freeze that would apply to construction by Jews, but not by Arabs; could any Israeli leader be expected to support such a position? One does not need to be a member of the Knesset to understand that such a freeze was impossible for Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition as it would have been for any Israeli prime minister -- but apparently this fact was beyond the understanding of Mitchell, Rahm Emanuel, and all the other "experts" on the Obama team.

The belligerence toward Netanyahu has been evident all along, but was best shown by the refusal to tell Israel's prime minister whether or not the president would see him when Netanyahu (like the president) addressed the United Jewish Communities annual general assembly in Washington. The Israelis gave the White House weeks of notice that Netanyahu had agreed to speak, would be in town, and hoped to see Obama. The White House reaction was to keep him twisting in the wind, with news stories several days before his arrival saying the president had not decided yet whether to see Netanyahu.

Think of it: Our closest ally in the region, critical issues at stake (from Iran's nuclear program and the recent Israeli seizure of an Iranian arms shipment meant for Hezbollah to Abbas's announcement), yet the Israelis get rebukes. Obama and his "experts" may think they are reminding Netanyahu who is boss, but they are in fact reminding all of us why

Think of it: Our closest ally in the region, critical issues at stake, yet the Israelis get rebukes.

Israelis no longer trust Obama.

The problems Netanyahu has with Obama pale in comparison with those of the Palestinians, and Abbas's announcement reflects their frustrations.... Abbas has threatened to leave many times before, and it's worth noting that he did not resign. He said he would not seek reelection next year, in elections scheduled for January 24 but highly unlikely to take place then -- if ever....

Israelis and Palestinians when I visited in October had two main questions: Who is making this Middle East policy, and do they not realize by now that it is a disaster? At least in this, one can say the administration has produced Israeli-Palestinian unity.

They are also united in watching warily as the president seems unable to make a decision about Afghanistan. For the Palestinians, this suggests he'll never really take on the Israelis for them, as they thought he might back in January. For the Israelis, it means he'll never take on Iran, and that they may in the end face the Iranian nuclear threat on their own....

[The] answers to their questions seem obvious: It is the president's policy, and no, he does not seem to be aware that it has already failed. And this is the fundamental problem with Obama's policy: Like too many of his predecessors he believes that a solution is at hand if only he can force the parties to the table. There, presumably under American tutelage, they will reach American-style compromises (pragmatic, sensible, realistic) and resolve the dispute, with Nobel Peace Prizes for all. The only question is where the table is: Camp David, Taba, Annapolis, Oslo, perhaps this time Chicago....

The way forward does not lie through fancy international conferences, and one idea still mentioned as an Obama option -- proposing a final status plan -- would be disastrous and unsuccessful. The way for the Palestinians to get a state is to go ahead and build it. If and when the institutions are there and functioning, from police and courts to a parliament, negotiations will reflect that fact. But the argument that settling the borders and removing the Israeli troops must come first is a path to failure. For one thing, Israel will not and should not leave until it is clear that the West Bank can be policed by Palestinians and that the region will not be a source of terrorism against Israel, as Gaza and South Lebanon became when Israel left there. No conference and no treaty can provide such a guarantee.

Thus far, the anniversary of Obama's election appears to have passed with no rethinking of policy. Instead the administration slogs forward, judging itself by its elevated intentions rather than its performance. Clinton's pronouncements -- demand a total construction freeze one day, accept Netanyahu's more modest offer the next, then back to the wider demands two days later in Morocco -- are increasingly reminiscent of World War I trench warfare: gain a few yards, lose a few more, while the casualties pile up. There will be no progress this way, and the practical efforts that should be at the heart of U.S. policy will instead be undermined as we poison Israeli-Palestinian relations and degrade the trust both parties have in us.

(The Weekly Standard)