WHY ISN'T OBAMA PRESSURING THE PALESTINIANS?
By Dr. Steven J. Rosen
But Abbas himself negotiated with seven previous Israeli Prime Ministers without such preconditions. For 17 years -- from the Madrid conference of October, 1991, through Abbas's negotiations with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which ended in 2008 -- negotiations moved forward, while Jerusalem construction continued. Madrid, Oslo I, Oslo II, the Hebron Protocol, the Wye River Memorandum, Camp David, Taba, the disengagement from Gaza, and Olmert's offer to Abbas -- all these events over the course of two decades were made possible by a continuing agreement to disagree about Israeli construction of Jewish homes in Jewish neighborhoods outside the pre-1967 line in East Jerusalem. But now, peace talks cannot even begin. Why the change?
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledges that the Palestinians are creating a new precondition for talks to begin. Settlements, she says, have "always been an issue within the negotiations.… There's never been a precondition." But Clinton has not stated any public objection to Abbas making this a new excuse not to negotiate.
Abbas himself blames Obama. As he said in November, 2010, "At first, President Obama stated in Cairo that Israel must stop all construction activities in the settlements. Could we demand less than that?" Some in the West are sympathetic to Abbas's maneuver, which they see as a form of protest against an Israeli policy to which the United States and the rest of the Middle East quartet, the four international players that steer peace efforts, also object. But when the Palestinians spurn negotiations, they are blocking the sole path to a solution of the settlement issue, which can only be a negotiated agreement over borders. As the U.S. State Department spokesman's said on August 2, "Absent a direct negotiation, there will be no end to the conflict, there will be no peace agreement, and there will be no Palestinian state. That's a fact."
There is also the question of whether Abbas's motive here is actually about the settlement issue, or rather to drive a wedge between Obama and Israel and induce the United States to impose a solution in lieu of negotiations. Isn't this a reversion to the pre-Oslo strategy of rejecting contact with Israel and demanding instead that the great powers impose Arab terms on the Jewish state?
In refusing to meet with Israel, Abbas is violating one of the most important commitments his predecessor Yasir Arafat made at the start of the Oslo process, which included this pledge to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on September 9, 1993: "The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides, and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations." It is also a direct violation of the pledge that Abbas himself made barely three years ago at the Annapolis conference. As witnessed by foreign ministers of 47 countries on November 27, 2007:
Abbas is also rejecting the imperative laid down by the Middle East "Quartet" in March, 2010, demanding "the resumption, without preconditions, of direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues as previously agreed by the parties." It is a repudiation of Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who said,
It is a dismissal of an objective considered vital by the Obama administration, to "re-launch negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions, which is in the interests of everyone in the region." Abbas is spurning all appeals from Clinton, who says that "negotiations between the parties is the only means by which all of the outstanding claims arising out of the conflict can be resolved."
But the Obama administration is raising no public objection to the Palestinians' stance. It has not expressed one word of criticism of Abbas, nor used anything resembling the pressure tactics Obama has so freely used against the Israeli side. In fact, Obama did quite the opposite on October 7, 2010, when he issued a special waiver of Section 7040(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act to transfer additional funds directly to the Palestinian Authority, just as it was announcing its refusal to negotiate.
Members of Congress are starting to take notice of the administration's reticence to confront Palestinian intransigence. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican - Florida), the incoming U.S House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman, said on December 23 of Palestinian leaders:
Her Democratic counterpart, California's Howard Berman, the outgoing Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said a few days earlier, referring to Abbas's unilateral drive to seek early recognition of Palestinian statehood, "If they try to circumvent negotiations, they'll lose the support of a lot of people like me, and it will jeopardize their foreign aid as well."
As it happens, a statute is already in place, requiring sanctions against such violations of the solemn commitments the Palestinians made. The Middle East Peace Commitments Act of 2002 notes that "Resolution of all outstanding issues in the conflict between the two sides through negotiations" is one of the core commitments to which the Palestinian Authority has obligated itself, and it requires the President to notify Congress of such violations and impose penalties, which may include a "prohibition on United States assistance to the West Bank and Gaza." When it returns to Washington this month, the new Congress may not share Obama's reluctance to criticize Abbas. With the support of House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the new House, in particular, may be willing to do something about it.
Israel & the Arabs -- The Israeli-Arab Conflict
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
Islamism & Jihadism -- Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
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International Politics & World Disorder:
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Dr. Steven J. Rosen heads the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum. He holds a Ph.D. degree from the Maxwell School of Diplomacy at Syracuse University. From 1968 to 1978, Dr. Rosen taught Political Science and International Relations at several universities -- the University of Pittsburgh, Brandeis University, and the Australian National University. From 1978 to 1982, he was Associate Director of the National Security Strategies Program at the RAND Corporation. From 1982 to 2005, he was Director of Foreign Policy Issues at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In 2009, he joined the Middle East Forum's staff as a visiting fellow, with special responsibility for U.S. foreign policy. Dr. Rosen, along with Dr. Walter S. Jones, co-authored a bestselling textbook, The Logic of International Relations, which went through five editions from 1974 to 1982.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rosen was originally published in Foreign Policy, January 4, 2011, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/2814/obama-pressuring-palestinians)
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