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D.C. The draft was one of 20 amendments submitted to the Defense Authorization Act of 2012– but it was mysteriously withdrawn on Wednesday before coming to a vote.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.