A two-state Middle East solution hangs in the balance as Obama waits

December 7, 2012

President Barack Obama may have believed he had at least until his inauguration next month to renew efforts to forge a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but events since he won re-election have put fresh demands on the president.

Since the U.S. election, we have witnessed another mini-war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza; the upgrading of the status of the Palestinians to a non-member state at the United Nations General Assembly; and most recently a series of retaliatory moves by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These included a decision to build thousands of housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and holding back some tax receipts that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Some of Israel’s supporters in the U.S. Senate tried to weigh in this week with a draft resolution that punishes the Palestinians by closing their office in Washington, D.C. The draft was one of 20 amendments submitted to the Defense Authorization Act of 2012– but it was mysteriously withdrawn on Wednesday before coming to a vote.

Hamas, which emerged from the most recent confrontation battered, but with its political prestige boosted across the Arab world, is still committed to Israel’s destruction. Listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, it is not considered a partner for negotiation. However, absent the Palestinian mission in Washington, the United States would have no official Palestinian partner for its diplomacy efforts.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the amendment might have been dropped when it became clear that it would garner disproportionate Republican support and thus embarrass its Democratic backers. It also may have failed because the Obama administration lobbied against it. The administration considers the conduct of foreign policy, including which foreign missions are allowed to operate in Washington, its business and not that of Congress. Nonetheless, in an extremely rare example of a U.S. lawmaker publicly criticizing Israel, California Senator Diane Feinstein was quoted by Congressional Quarterly as criticizing Israel for undermining peace. It seems clear from Feinstein’s comment that some Democrats were angered by Netanyahu’s action.

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is Israel’s partner for peace – as acknowledged repeatedly by Netanyahu. If the amendment in Congress was a genuine reflection of feelings toward Palestinian representation in the U.S., that undercuts Obama’s efforts to negotiate a solution that prevents further conflict.

The most serious recent move was the Netanyahu government’s decision to build a huge new settlement in a tract of land in the West Bank known as E1. The strategic significance of this area is huge. The construction would cut off the north of the West Bank from the south, meaning that any future Palestinian state would not rule a contiguous territory but would be reduced to a series of cantons separated by massive Jewish settlement blocks.

A peace settlement would require the recognition if a contiguous Palestinian state with the E1 zone as its north-south corridor. Netanyahu’s E1 move is nothing less than a dagger aimed at the heart of the two-state solution.

Faced with this, the Obama administration’s tepid response has been indicative only of his unpreparedness to act. While Britain, France and a growing list of other nations summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capital to hear tough messages of grave concern and intense displeasure, State Department spokesman Mark Toner merely reiterated “our longstanding opposition to Israeli settlement activity” and urged Israel to “reconsider its actions and exercise restraint.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a forum last week that Netanyahu’s decision “set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” but the outgoing secretary seems disinclined to become more involved. She won plaudits last month for helping to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but she seems to have little appetite for more substantive work in the closing weeks of her tenure. The last thing Clinton, who is mulling a possible 2016 presidential bid, may want is to bump heads with Israel.

With Obama handling the fiscal cliff negotiations, Clinton effectively out of the game and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, her possible successor, hamstrung with her own political troubles, it seems that no one high up in the administration is minding the Israel-Palestine account.

Officials are no doubt working quietly through diplomatic channels to persuade Netanyahu to back down from his E1 decision. But this may not be enough.

The Israeli leader is in the thick of an election campaign during which his Likud Party has shifted sharply to the right. In internal party primaries that determined the party’s slate for the Jan. 22 election, well-known moderates such as Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and Benny Begin were effectively shunted aside while right-wingers who back more settlement activity and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state took top positions.

In the weeks remaining before the election, Netanyahu is liable to take even more extreme steps to shore up his position. Defying the international community has always played well with the Israeli electorate, large portions of which feel victimized by the rest of the world.

But criticism from the United States is different. While Israeli politicians may be able to dismiss criticism from European nations and even from close friends like Australia, they cannot do so when the censure comes from Washington.

Israeli politicians and the Israeli public have always understood the degree of their dependence on the United States. Without U.S. diplomatic backing, Israel would be almost entirely isolated in the world. Without deep U.S. military, scientific and financial involvement, Israel would struggle to maintain its prized technological edge over its enemies.

Obama may have wished to wait until after his inauguration to get tough with Israel – but he may not have that luxury.

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 5, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

18 comments

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Obama’s “Arab Spring” appears to be a direct route to start World War III. My Engineer Friends in Egypt tell me the New President of Egypt Mosi is a Dictator, similiar to Germany’s Hitler.
They also say he has the blessing of Obama, because no Foreign Aid is being stpped.
And they say everyone knows that the Muslim Brotrherhood is a cover organization for all of the Middle East Terrorist Organizations. Which they now believe Obama supports.

Posted by mcundyf | Report as abusive

It is amazing that Israel and USA cannot do what South Africa did and ended Apartheid through two great men that saw the need to change course-(Mr Mandela and De-Clark). Opposing the Palestinian State is a huge shame to USA and hurts the stature of US in the world,(Israel is kind of like a state of US);US Govt. should ask former president G W Bush to help. He may have had weaknesses in some things, but on the two state solution he seemed quite consistent and seemed to follow what he believed is correct course. I believe the majority of Israelites do not support forced buildings/settlements in another community that gets their lives wrecked/bulldozed. The leaders that represent that region are “quite a kind”-they defy all logic, compassion and fairness. Mr Obama needs to be himself -like former president Bush was–may be his legacy will be saved(win or lose) other than appearing to put politics above conviction to do what believed a correct thing to do.

Posted by oxen | Report as abusive

George W. Bush, MBA, 43rd President of the United States, in an Apr. 11, 2005 speech transcript titled “Remarks With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” stated:

“I remain strongly committed to the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security… I reaffirmed our commitment to that vision and to the road map as the only way forward to realize it. The road map has been accepted and endorsed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, along with virtually the entire international community.”

Apr. 11, 2005 – George W. Bush, MBA

Posted by oxen | Report as abusive

Peace is necessary for a secure Israel.

Basically, the problem in Israel is racist, apartheid Zionism cult. I don’t see how any two-state solution based on racism can ever be a peaceful solution? Zionist Israel is based on ethnic cleansing for Jews-only, and vigorously continues on that path. How can that lead to peace? Maybe if there were no other Arabs besides the indigenous Palestinians, and Zionists could have killed almost all of them (as we Americans were able to do with the our native Americans), then Israel could be a largely peaceful place (like the US?). But, Palestinians are not the only Arabs (and Muslims) around, so the situation is simply not like in America, or similarly in Australia, and it never will be. Moverover, Israeli Jews are already mixed with Palestinians, on a very fine scale. The end of racist Zionism is the only road to peace, and cannot be reached by leaving the present day Israel regime in place.

So, for peace, the situation more of less leaves the one-state-solution as the only possibility, the end of Zionism: Jews and Arabs living in a non-racist, or low-racist Israel/Palestine, as the only possibility for enduring peace. Pragmatically, it is also a very desirable goal for America, in view of the natural resources we need from the ME. Getting there will obviously be difficult, but not impossible.

Even with a one-state-solution, equal rights for all in Israel-Palestine, the path to true peace, the Palestinians will have given up a great deal. They will have acquiesced to the past influx of millions of European Jews, have suffered three generations of violent, domineering Zionist malevolence, loss of land use, disrespect, and degradation of their self-worth. It will not be easy to straighten out this situation, but is is the interests of the world to do so. In short, the Palestinians will have to get over a Hitler-Holocaust-like situation, which the Jews have emphatically shown is not easy.

Following the lead of Zionists, and of Zionist-dominated America, has not lead to peace, and never will. Obviously, our world leaders throughout the history of Israel, have terribly failed. However, I have faith in young Jews, those not poisoned by the Holocaust, that they will support the end of Zionism and the normalization of Israel as a nation. The West, particularly Western Jews, need to help this happen, even for their own self

The two-state solution is long gone, in fact is a Zionist subterfuge, and never could work as long as Zionist racist Israel continues. We need to effect, and support, the political unification of Israel-Palestine as a single democratic state. Peace and progress, then, can finally come to the ME.

Our US problem with the ME is Israel.

See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-state_s olution

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

A “two-state” solution ignores the reality of the situation.

If you doubt that, simply look at the history of the region since the beginning of the Jewish state in 1949.

NEITHER SIDE wants a two-state, thus it will not happen.

For the US, recognition of this fact would go a long way towards getting the US out of a lose-lose situation.

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive

The USA should drop support for a so-called “two State” solution and support instead a single, diverse country with one vote per person and laws that treat all people equally. Unless such a solution occurs, which is the only one consistent with principles hammered into American society, the USA should stop all activities supportive of either side.

A solution unacceptable in the USA is unacceptable elsewhere as well. This should be obvious. Time for our money and our support to align with our country’s principles.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

One simple solution, decrease our foreign aid to Israel by $1,000,000 per new dwelling built in Palestine. The problem will go away quickly.

Posted by MikeStover | Report as abusive

Religions shouldn’t have their own state unless limited greatly in scope (the Vatican comes to mind). Religion is dogma, and having the power of a functioning state behind dogma is a power quite terrible to imagine. If this area is so deeply important to various religious peoples then it should become a protectorate under the UN and open to all. What industry is there in that tiny swath of land without foreign investment anyways? Orange and olive groves alongside traditional fishing grounds? I’m in favour of the NO STATE solution before these dogmatic loonies get us all killed…

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

To the obama haters; he is cold as ice towards Israel and kudos to that. We have no need to get messed up more in the middle east. Some status quo’s, like aid have been maintained to both israel and egypt. Of course that aid has a lot attached that the public will never fully understand. I get that part of it but its sad to see our monies go to help foreign governments like this.

Posted by bob_lob_law | Report as abusive

Strangely I agree with both Gordon2352 and CDN_Rebel. There should not be a two state solution. The borders of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and possibly Egypt should be extended, divided evenly. We, the “western” powers should never have created Israel out of our empathy. In doing so we wronged another social group, the Palestinians. I don’t particularly care for them as they have proven themselves to be just as uncivilized as those of Israel, but if we’re going to talk the talk, then we should walk the walk.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

The US is politically incapable of being an honest broker. The US can not credibly try to sit between Israel and Palestine at any future negotiating sessions. We are too compromised.

I suggest a role for France & Qatar as Palestinian partners, in negotiations, with the US in it’s inevitable role as representing Israel’s interests.

If Obama wants to bring peace and enforce agreements between these nations, first the US should stop using its UN security council vote to block enforcement of UN resolutions. This would be seen as harsh treatment by Israel. However, they need a bitch-slap to come to the table.
Enough phony posturing. Nobody is presently acting in a way designed to enforce a permanent solution. No solution will be forthcoming without outside enforcement.

Posted by MediocreFred | Report as abusive

Israelis & Arabs would make a very powerful economic combination. Sadly, the leaders of the Arab world just preach incredible hate toward Israel for many decades. After all, Israelis are as “Palestinians” as any Arab! Educating the Arab peoples would create the engine for a regional peace and spark incredible economic development. Meaning a living wage,food,shelter for families and not rockets and explosive suicide belts. There are many forces arrayed against this kind of scenario and they are the ones that create the madness that we have now.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

It’s hard to stand on either side of this conflict.

- From the Palestinians’ point, they have been living there for generations. Now all of a sudden, they have to go. And no one will take them. Arab neighbors just want to use them to annoy Israel and cause Israel to leave.
- And the Jewish people don’t have anywhere to go either because they want a land of their own, just like other culture. The land used to belong to their ancestors, but the thing is that their ancestors left the poor desert land for Europe where there are better trade and profit opportunities. Now when they come back, they probably have more European than Semitic in their DNA.

Nevertheless, the very hardcore Jewish people can’t go back to Europe because they understandably don’t feel comfortable there. Especially after WW2. Staying in North America, they don’t feel like they have a “home”.

I think the good part of the Arab population should actually have some sympathy for the Jewish people, at the end of the day, they are more closely related to each other than they think.

So I guess let the Jewish people stay there. Have some extra land given to them since the current land mass is just way too small for them. The displaced ones can either be offered to immigrate to some benevolent and wealthy countries in the West or accepted by the Arab neighbors. And no body claims Jerusalem so the other is looked as a loser.

In the end, the Arab would benefit from a friendly Israel too. I don’t know how hurtful this is, but it looks like the Arabs are simply not smart enough. There is no way they can compete in the global economy. Yes they do have oil, but that is the Arabs far away near the Gulf. The ones surrounding Israel have next to nothing. They will need jobs created by the smart Israel.

I’m on the side with the Palestinians on emotional ground and Israel on rational ground. (but only the liberal ones of Israel, they contribute a lot. The conservative religious draft dodging welfare living stay home breeders of Israel are just as … well I would like to stay polite here)

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

Most of these posters, and the author, seem to be missing a very major point – Israel will never let Palestine become a state. They want all that land for their Zionist (their word, not mine) homeland.

Posted by Poalima | Report as abusive

The UN vote recognizing Palestine without requiring Palestine to recognize Israel has destroyed the UN’s credibility in any future Palestinian crisis, and any chance of a peaceful resolution.

Posted by My3cents | Report as abusive

Looking at this mess, from any angle, it clearly shows that the creation of the ‘Israeli State’, WITH NOTHING BUT WAR & VIOLENCE, was a huge blunder.

PERIOD.

Posted by EthicsIntl | Report as abusive

Reading another article in Reuters, even Turkey – once reflecting the US stance on Israel – is now reputing Israel and its policies.

And why blame Hillary Clinton for our government’s stance on Israel? She takes orders from the president.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

FROM: Rabbi Berenbaum:(1.) We should undertake a divorce situation in which two people agree to separate, divide resources and live apart and not together. (2.) Also in a divorce, both parties have to give us something which they feel is rightfully theirs.

FROM: Rabbi Silver:I believe that the long term viability and security of Israel is immensely enhanced by the two state solution and that efforts to frustrate that development are harmful to the interests of Israel.

To move the discussion forward to the point where concrete proposals can be made , would you be willing to specify, as a 1st cut, the terms of the divorce ( and/or the terms of the “2 state solution”)that would guarantee Israel( from Israel’s viewpoint) both peace and security ?

CAN YOU COME UP WITH A CONCRETE PLAN/PROPOSAL WHICH WOULD COUNTER MY BELIEF? That as long as the Palestinians maintain the Arab League position: no negotiations; no recognition; no peace; demand that any area they takeover should be Jew-free. ; maintain that even if they get a State, the residents the camps on the West Bank,Gaza, in Jordan, Syria, etc. would not be citizens of this new state but would have the right of unlimited return to the state of Israel; and that all of Israel is unredeemed Islamic territory, THERE WILL NEVER BE PEACE

HL: This is true (both parties have to give up something). In today’s Washington Post one of the opinion writers stated that any successful deal leaves both sides somewhat unhappy. In my experience, a successful deal leaves both sides relieved. In economics, a successful deal requires that both sides get increased utility.

a. Isn’t Israel currently riding the proverbial tiger: it can’t get off without being eaten? How does Israel prevent the West Bank from being used as a base for attacks on Israel, especially if the West Bank gets its own airport and seaport and the IDF does not have a presence?

b. Isn’t the right of return the ultimate deal breaker. All factions maintain that no one, absolutely no one on the Palestinian side has the right to negotiate, bargain, compromise or in any way give up this right. The PA latest position—- that even when the Palestinian state includes the entire West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem—Palestinian citizenship will not be given to those currently in camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and even in Gaza or the West Bank– but that they and those located anywhere else in the world ( now numbering more than 5,000,000 according to PA claims) are entitled to unlimited right of return to what is now the state of Israel.

c. How does one deal with a constant reaffirmation of demands no matter what the previous agreement was ….All agreements are interim (stopping points) on their way to achieving the domination they seek. “We have the patience and we have the objective… time is on our side”.

d.The Palestinians demand a Jew -free West Bank and a Jew- free East Jerusalem . Years have passed because the PA strategy still is (as it was then): NO RECOGNITION; NO NEGOTIATION; NO PEACE.

e. The peace/nonaggression agreement with Hezbollah (supposedly supervised by the UN) has been violated on a tremendous scale; the peace treaty with Egypt is very tenuous at best; the PA never ceased their incitement as they agreed to in the Oslo Accords. In the divorce settlement has to be some enforcement mechanism such as the courts with power. When Israel pulled back from the Suez and “UN observers” were put in place they were removed immediately at the Egyptian demand prior to Egypt’s attack on Israel.

f. The Jews rejected a one state solution in 1937 onward and it was the Arabs who fought for a one state solution believing correctly so that with one state, they triumph. That is still their goal… one state from the river to the sea… Arab dominated… preferably Jew-free.

Posted by LTCOLHOWARD | Report as abusive