Friday, June 3, 2011

How Obama Administration Mishandling of the Palestinian Unilateral Independence Bid is Wasting 2011—And What He Should Have Done

This article is published in the Jerusalem Post but I have added additional material. I own the rights so link to this site if you forward or reprint.

By Barry Rubin

And so he rushes off to Europe to muster support so that the United States is not alone. It’s the end of May already. Besides, the UK, France, Germany, and Italy have already made clear that they won’t support unilateral independence.

In a real sense this issue has illustrated Obama’s incompetence and the mess created by his world view. What would a “real” president have done?

First, get an early start. The moment the PA announced it was considering this scheme, he would have coordinated with European allies to get a joint statement that this was unacceptable and that there would be negative consequences for the PA in pursuing it and refusing to negotiate with Israel. What’s being done in May should (and could) have been done in January. Why is Obama trying to get a joint stand with Europe now when the issue has been discussed for months?

Second, lobby hard in the Third World. American diplomats should be limousining into the offices of presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers all over the world to make it clear that the United States wants them to oppose this initiative. Favors should be called in; gentle warnings made. Yet as Latin American countries—a traditional area of U.S. influence--unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state, Obama stood by and did nothing.

Third, make the consequences clear to the PA. The PA has done many things to sabotage Obama’s prized peace process. Here’s a partial list:

--Went back on its promise to him not to push the Goldstone Report, which even its principal author now disowns, at the UN.

--Sabotaged his September 2009 initiative for a Camp David-style summit to be held in December, after he publicly announced it at the UN.

--Refused to negotiate seriously with Israel when Israel accepted and implemented a nine-month-long freeze of construction on settlements and then even added Jerusalem to it. The PA waited a few days before the expiration, held a couple of formal chats, and then demanded that the freeze be renewed!

--Made a deal with Hamas that obviously runs counter to U.S. policy and puts a big hole in the side of the already sinking peace process.

--Going to the UN in this time-wasting, negotiations’ killing maneuver.

Ironically, the Palestinians are almost universally portrayed as the world’s leading victims. Yet in a very real sense, they are the world’s most spoiled political grouping. Decades of refusal to negotiate, intransigence, and terrorism are rewarded while massive subsidies continue ignoring political behavior, incitement, violation of commitments, terrorism, and corruption.

Maybe that’s the real problem making this conflict persist.

Fourth, Obama has not put any sanctions on the PA, refused to threaten it, and has barely criticized it in public. Indeed, the money and diplomatic support continues no matter what the PA does. Obama’s level of backing for Israel does not go up in response to PA behavior either. So he has taught the PA that sabotaging American policy pays because it makes him (and the world) criticize Israel, widens the U.S.-Israel rift, and even brings more U.S. concessions for the Palestinians in a desperate effort to make peace, even if the Palestinian leadership cares less about that achievement than the United States, EU, and UN.

It is an amazing example of Obama’s exaltation of weakness that even a deal between the PA and Hamas has barely brought a squeak from him, after a period of saying “we’ll see what happens.” The administration’s great defense is that maybe the deal will collapse of its own weight. We’re also told that Congress will declare U.S. aid to the PA illegal and stop it because of this alliance with a terrorist group.

Yet what kind of president let’s something happen that would lead to Congress forcibly terminating one of his priority policy initiatives? This is not leadership and, of course, if it happens that will be a major embarrassment for the White House. The obvious criticism is: Why didn’t you do anything?

Fifth, the president should have explained very clearly why he is opposed to this maneuver. The problem is that he cannot really do so without blaming the PA.

Let us remember that in the year 2000—that’s eleven years ago! How time flies when you’re fantasizing about an unworkable peace process—the Palestinian leadership rejected peace. (Note: So did the Syrian leadership and the U.S. government is still treating that regime as a friend!) President Bill Clinton denounced the PA rulers. Then President George W. Bush discovered that PA leader Yasir Arafat was lying to him and trying to import Iranian weapons to launch a full-scale war on Israel. He, too, got angry.

Obama, however, has not caught on and probably never will. The PA does not want to make a compromise peace resulting in a two-state solution. Going to the UN to circumvent talks and allying with Hamas are two major ways that the PA is violating the Oslo agreement, the very basis of its existence. In fact, by rejecting peace and instead launching a terrorist war on Israel they violated it eleven years ago. And, as far as Western diplomacy goes, they never pay the price.

It will pull the rug out from under the United States every time and make its president look foolish. And that’s sure what’s happening with the PA’s unilateral independence bid.

In short, this is a huge mess. And while the PA is responsible for it, the president is, too. The PA is showing by how it behaves that it doesn’t want peace. Still, the West just doesn’t want to recognize this fact. It’s far easier and cost-free to blame Israel.

But what’s the point in Obama coming up with a new peace plan when it should be clear that it isn’t going anywhere, and why it isn’t going anywhere. People talk of a “cycle of violence.” Well what about the cycle of diplomacy? Here’s how that works:

U.S. and Europe propose plan, demand is made for both sides to make concessions, Israel makes concessions, PA doesn’t implement its part; plan fails; Israel blamed; new cycle begins.

Of course, sometimes Israel refuses also or only makes partial concessions. Yet every time the PA’s score is zero. At least Israel is always willing to talk. The PA has now refused serious talks for 2.5 years and there’s no doubt it will get to the three-year-mark.

The fact that Israel has caught onto this game and refuses to play anymore has provoked astonishment in Europe and America. Don’t those Israelis realize that it’s for their own good? No, they realize it is against their interests and also realize that these countries either haven’t been paying attention or don’t care.

But to return to the PA’s UN maneuver. The Obama Administration has botched it. In the end, the unilateral independence gimmick will be defeated but at the cost of at least one year wasted diplomacy and an increasingly reckless PA strategy. This time, though, the U.S. government will have to stick its neck out and (very possibly) do a unilateral veto.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained how a previous president dealt with a previous such situation. Secretary of State James Baker, someone personally unfriendly to Israel by the way, made it clear in 1989 that if the UN were to take such a step the United States would cut off all of its financial donations to that institution. The problem immediately disappeared.

That's called using power, unapologetically taking leadership, and getting your way. It's a concept totally alien to the Obama Administration. But not to America's enemies.

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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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