The Palestinians: Why Negotiate? The U.S. Will Extract Concessions For You

by MARK SILVERBERG April 5, 2010
When Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post attacks the White House’s outrage over the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee’s decision to approve the construction of 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo (a post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhood) as “ideological and vindictive,” you know that the Obama administration has made a serious political blunder.
The administration has apparently decided to provoke a diplomatic crisis with Israel over a construction project that was plainly in keeping with past U.S.-Israeli undertakings concerning East Jerusalem. Israel’s official position for the last 40 years has been that East Jerusalem’s status will not be negotiable in any future land-swap agreement with the Palestinians. This policy, however distasteful it may be to the Obama administration, did not prevent the conclusion of peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, nor did it preclude the Palestinians from negotiating with Israel for more than 15 years after the Oslo Accords of 1993. Now, suddenly, it has become a major issue with this administration, and an impediment to world peace. Apparently, a zoning dispute in Israel’s capital city is more important than addressing the nuclear threat posed by Iran.
This dispute has affected American credibility with Israel, our European and Asian allies, as well as the Arab and Iranian world. As Robert Kagan notes in the Washington Post: “The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus. Yet [the White House] angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute – and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.”
For some unfathomable reason, the Obama administration sees Israel as obstructionist, defiant and intransigent. It is oblivious to the risks Israel has taken in withdrawing from Gaza, the continuous incitement taking place in Palestinian society through its mosques, media, schools, and government sponsored events, the missile attacks on Israel's civilian population centers, and the enormous concessions – rejected by Mahmoud Abbas – that the governments of Barak (2000) and Olmert (2008) were prepared to make on both Jerusalem and the West Bank prior to the Second Intifada, not to mention Israel’s continuing efforts to negotiate a durable and lasting peace. These events are rarely if ever mentioned by this administration.
Evidently, since the White House could not coerce Israel to acquiesce to its demands through quiet pressure, they have decided to bring such pressure into the public sphere by insisting upon demands to which no Israeli government can acquiesce – demands that include giving the U.S. a veto over any Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations. To enforce this demand, they ordered an embargo of the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) – the super bunker-buster bombs that he had earlier promised to Israel. These munitions have since been diverted to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
Nor is this the first time he has interfered with Israel’s qualitative military edge. A January 2010 Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) Report notes that “the White House has so far blocked key weapons projects and upgrades for Israel, rejecting requests for AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters while approving advanced F-16 multi-role fighters for Egypt …. Israel’s request for the six AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters was blocked by the Obama Administration in June – the same time the Egyptian sale was approved.”
The Israeli Prime Minister is also being exposed to diplomatic isolation – a taste of which he encountered during his recent humiliation at the White House. Dictators and tyrants have received better treatment. The administration also insists that Netanyahu must toe the line on U.S. foreign policy by demanding that Israel hand over areas adjacent to Jerusalem (specifically Abu-Dis, where Palestinian government institutions were previously established) to exclusive PA control; cease all Jewish construction in East Jerusalem; give serious consideration to releasing hundreds of convicted Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons “as a goodwill gesture;” establish a Palestinian state within the next two years (which would bring in U.S. forces thereby inhibiting Israeli counter-terrorism operations in Judea and Samaria); renew peace talks with Syria; agree to negotiate the partition of Jerusalem; withdraw from West Bank “settlements” (despite understandings that the large settlement blocs would remain in Israel proper in any negotiated final agreement); and agree to the “right of return” of hostile foreign Arabs to pre-1948 Israel.
Netanyahu’s acquiescence to a Palestinian state, a 10-month moratorium on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria that specifically excluded Jerusalem (a fact this Administration now dismisses), and the dismantling of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks apparently means nothing to an administration whose long term strategy seems to demonstrate to America’s enemies that the U.S. is prepared to force a Czechoslovakian-type deal on Israel to concede everything, while giving the Palestinians a pass – including their dedication of tournaments, streets, marketplaces and a town square outside Ramallah to “martyrs” whose sole “accomplishments” have been slaughtering Israeli men, women and children. One explanation is the desire of this administration to demonstrate to our enemies that there is no length to which it will not go by betraying its friends in the name of “peace.”
Under such circumstances, why should the Palestinians agree to negotiate with Israel when they are content to watch a U.S. administration extract concessions significantly greater than any they could ever hope to achieve though bilateral talks? Diehl’s editorial in the Washington Post lays the blame for the current crisis squarely on the White House, which it accuses of treating Netanyahu “as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons, but conspicuously held at arms’ length.” Diehl goes on to say: “[The White House] picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun….A new Administration can be excused for making such a mistake in the treacherous and complex theater of Middle East diplomacy. That’s why Obama was given a pass by many when he made exactly the same mistake last year. The second time around, the president doesn’t look naive. He appears ideological - and vindictive.” And, according to Caroline Glick: “[The White House] has pocketed Netanyahu’s concessions and escalated his demands …… With the [White House] treating Israel like an enemy, the Palestinians have no reason to agree to sit down and negotiate.”
The fact is that neither George Mitchell nor Hillary Clinton nor Robert Gates, nor the president himself has obtained a single concession from the Palestinian Authority – not one. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three presidents and six prime ministers have led nowhere. This administration has spent more time provoking our friends than they have challenging our enemies. Constant attempts to engage with Iran, Syria and Turkey combined with the delay in signing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, suggest that they view developing U.S. relations with these anti-American regimes as his primary foreign policy goal. Given that each of these leaders has demanded that in exchange for better relations, the White House must abandon Israel as a U.S. ally, recent behavior can be explained in strategic terms rather than as pique over new apartment buildings in Jerusalem.
Seeing a potential break between Washington and Jerusalem, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have done everything possible to undermine the U.S.-Israeli relationship even more. Palestinian incitement and violence against Israel and Jews have increased as have missile attacks from Gaza and Arab riots across Israel and the West Bank. And why not? If the Obama administration is to adopt the policies of Israel’s enemies, how can Israel’s enemies be any less aggressive than the White House? As a result, the administration’s constant affirmations of its commitment to Israel’s security – from officials in Washington, to Mitchell and Biden in Israel, to Clinton at the AIPAC Conference last month are no longer credible. The Obama administration has jeopardized not Israel’s stature, but its own regional interests and its international credibility. It is no longer seen as a reliable ally by the Israelis, the Europeans, the Asians, and especially by the Arab/Persian world.
The Obama administration had best not delude itself: The Arab Street will never support America. When the U.S. distances itself from Israel, it does not win influence with the Arab world; it only earns their disdain and justifies the Arab world backing away from any peace settlement. The Obama administration considers establishing a Palestinian state central to their other regional goals, and believes that the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are ready to run a country. He is wrong on both counts. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will not solve America’s problems with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or al-Qaeda contrary to statements issued by some administration officials. As Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus said in his testimony before Congress recently: “Even if the U.S. were to announce a total military and economic boycott of Israel tomorrow, nothing would induce radical Islamists to lay down arms against America. Even if America joined the global jihad and offered to fight shoulder to shoulder with al Qaeda, the extremists would not accept the offer, and give up their attacks against U.S. targets. For extremist regimes like Iran, Israel is a secondary target. Their main problem is the Western world and its leader, the United States.”
The White House says Israel must prove that it is committed to peace. It is unfortunate that this administration is not making the same demands of the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Iranians. Israeli settlements are not the root of America’s woes.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Mark Silverberg is a foreign policy analyst for the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), a Contributing Editor for Family Security Matters, Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) and the New Media Journal and is a member of Hadassah’s National Academic Advisory Board. His book “The Quartermasters of Terror: Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Jihad” and his articles have been archived under www.marksilverberg.com and www.analyst-network.com. This article was originally published by www.hudson-ny.org."

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