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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Jackson Diehl, "Obama’s Middle East fallacy": Should Netanyahu Demand Palestinian Acceptance of a Jewish State?

Although I am not a "follower" (see below) of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe it is imperative that any lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians require that the Palestinians accept Israel as a "Jewish state." Why? Simple. UN Resolution 181, adopted in November 1947, was the basis for the division of British Mandatory Palestine into two states, one for the "Arabs" and one for the "Jews." The Jews living in Mandatory Palestine accepted the resolution, whereas the Arab states surrounding Mandatory Palestine rejected the resolution and attacked the fledgling state of Israel upon its creation.

Can Palestinians accept the premise of a Jewish state in the heart of a Muslim Middle East? The answer coming from Palestinian Authority Abbas is "no," yet such acceptance is rudimentary for an enduring peace. The alternative is for Abbas and other Muslim leaders to say that they can accept an Israel, but not what Israel actually is, i.e. a homeland for the Jewish people. Without such acceptance, there is no real peace.

Kerry originally agreed to this demand from Netanyahu for acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, but recently performed an embarrassing about-face. As reported by The Jerusalem Post last week (http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Officials-slam-Kerry-for-saying-PM-wrong-to-insist-Palestinians-declare-Israel-Jewish-state-345479):

"On Thursday, Kerry told members of Congress that international law already defined Israel as a Jewish state, and called Netanyahu’s continued call for a public declaration of Israel’s Jewish character from the Palestinians 'a mistake.'"

What accounts for Kerry's change of heart? Answer: Imminent failure.

In a Washington Post opinion piece entitled "Obama’s Middle East fallacy" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jackson-diehl-obamas-middle-east-fallacy/2014/03/16/c72b273e-aad1-11e3-98f6-8e3c562f9996_story.html?hpid=z3), Jackson Diehl acknowledges that Obama sought to strong-arm Netanyahu prior to his arrival in Washington two weeks ago by warning of dire consequences if Netanyahu did not agree to a US-drafted "framework agreement" for peace. Diehl observes that Abbas, in the past, refused to act on all US peace initiatives:

"The Palestinian president — who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and has remained in office for five years after its expiration — turned down President George W. Bush’s request that he sign on to a similar framework in 2008. In 2010, after Obama strong-armed Netanyahu into declaring a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to negotiate for nine of the designated 10 months, then broke off the talks after two meetings.

Abbas agreed to Kerry’s proposal for another nine-month negotiating window last year in exchange for Israel’s release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners, including many convicted of murdering civilians. Abbas hailed them as heroes. Then he embarked on a public campaign to deep-six the two principal provisions Israel has sought in the U.S. framework, both of which have had Washington’s support. One would allow Israeli soldiers to remain along the Palestinian-Jordanian border during an extended transition period; the other would involve Palestinian recognition that Israel is a Jewish state."

Diehl, however, does not explain Abbas's past unwillingness to enter into a binding peace agreement, whose rationale is to be found in remarks made by the Palestinian Authority president to none other than Diehl in 2009 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803614.html):

"'I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,' he said. 'Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.'"

In fact, nothing has changed for Abbas over the past five years, and this logic, premised upon survival, still guides Abbas, who is in his tenth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Diehl's current opinion piece continues (my italics):

"The 'Jewish state' question is hard for many non-Israelis to understand: Who cares what Arabs call Israel, so long as they accept it? But for Netanyahu and his followers, the question is essential. Arab leaders have never conceded that a non-Arab state can hold a permanent place in the Middle East, they say. Until they do so, there will be no real peace, because Palestinians will keep pressing to weaken and eventually eliminate Israel’s Jewish majority.

Obama and Kerry have endorsed the Jewish-state principle; their hope was to use it to leverage Netanyahu’s acceptance of framework language stipulating that the territory of a Palestinian state would be equal to, if not exactly the same as, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some in the Israeli media are betting that Netanyahu most likely would accept that outcome — albeit with many reservations — even at the risk of losing his right-wing governing coalition. After all, the price of saying no, repeatedly underlined by Kerry and Obama, is daunting: more boycotts, more anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations, perhaps even another violent Palestinian uprising."

Well, as observed above, I do not count myself among Netanyahu's "followers," yet I do perceive the importance of requiring Abbas to accept Israel for what it is - a Jewish state. After all, what is the value of Abbas accepting Israel for what it is not, which in fact does not amount to any kind of acceptance at all?

Moreover, Diehl is mistaken: As noted above, Obama and Kerry no longer endorse the "Jewish-state principle."

But more to the point, why does Obama feel the need to ambush and strong-arm allies, while bending over backwards to accommodate American foes, e.g. promise "flexibility" to Putin in his second term?

Although both Obama and Kerry are desperate for "legacies," their peace initiative involving Israel and the Palestinians, which ignores Gaza and Hamas, was dead in the water at its outset.

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