Crisis in the Ukraine edged to the sidelines, if only temporarily, the often misguided focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, as Valdimir Putin pushed Ukraine around, President Barack Obama hosted meetings in the last couple of weeks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It was pretty much more of the same: Abbas rejecting the Jewish state, and the White House and State Department trying to act tough with Netanyahu.
It began a few days before Netanyahu arrived in Washington with Obama giving an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View that took what most observers agreed was a hard line with the Israeli leader. Obama said time was running out to reach a two-state deal, challenged Netanyahu by saying, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” and obsessed on Israeli construction in the disputed West Bank territories.
Obama was not so confrontational with Netanyahu in the public part of their meeting March 3 as the Ukraine crisis was mushrooming. But Obama again stressed the time issue, noting an April deadline loomed in Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations to produce a framework for further talks.
There was no pre-meeting lecturing interview for Abbas. Obama welcomed Abbas to the White House Monday as a man of peace who had rejected violence. But the president made no mention of what Netanyahu correctly described as the “incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel’’ that doesn’t prepare the Palestinian people for the hard decisions needed for peace and can only encourage those who do practice terrorism.
Not only does he not discourage hate language, Abbas even descends into it. In a recent speech in Morocco, Abbas called the record of more than three millennia of Jewish history in Jerusalem a “delusional myth,” reports Palestinian Media Watch.
This underlines that the fundamental obstacle to peace is not Israeli home building in West Bank communities but the refusal of Palestinians — and the wider Arab and Muslim worlds — to accept Israel as the Jewish state. Abbas has refused to do so time and again.
Abbas backs a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees from the first Arab war against Israel in 1948 and their millions of descendents that would doom Israel as a Jewish state. Obama should have told Abbas the world has had enough of that after seeing Putin exercise a bogus Russian right to return to Crimea.
Kerry expressed irritation with Israel’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state. He said Yassir Arafat did so already. But the dead terrorist was notorious for saying one thing for Western ears, nice talk of peace, and another for Arab audiences, exhortations to jihad.
Kerry also suggested a failure of the current talks could lead to isolation and boycotts of Israel. Obama amplified that position by saying that if there’s no peace deal and settlement construction continues, “then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
Obama and Kerry come across as telling an ally they know better than it about the dangers it faces. That only confirms suspicions overseas that America under Obama doesn’t know how to treat friends.
Worse, Obama’s assertion about limits on his ability to defend Israel on the world stage only reinforces impressions that he is weak. He’s saying he doesn’t have what it takes to stand up for a friend when it counts.
There’s a lot more at stake here than the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.