The announcement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he will not run for reelection is the exclamation point on the utter collapse of the Obama adminstration’s Middle East policy. Launched to great expectations — the appointment of George Mitchell, Obama’s Cairo declaration that the plight of the Palestinians is intolerable — it is now in complete disarray. It is, without doubt, the first major defeat for Obama’s hope-and-change foreign policy.
Here’s how it unraveled. First, Obama began a test of strength with Israel over that country’s policy of illegal settlements, an expansion of its occupation of the West Bank driven by extremist, right-wing settlers who are fanatical, Bible-believing cultists who think that Israel has some God-given right to that territory. The settler-kooks — indeed, one of their past leaders was named Rabbi Kook — are supported by ultra-hardliners in Israel’s security establishment, who see the West Bank as strategic depth in Israel’s defense posture. What happened after Obama told Israel it had to stop settlements? Nothing. Score: Netanyahu 1, Obama 0.
Next, the Obama adminstration capitulated, refusing to insist on any penalty for Israel’s defiant intransigence. Not even a hint of any retaliation by the United States to enforce what it had called the path to a peace deal. No talk of reducing US aid to Israel, or cutting back on US-Israeli military cooperation, or anything. Score: Netanyahu 2, Obama 0.
Then, while all this was going on, Obama hinted that he might announce, this fall, something like a comprehensive US plan for the Middle East. Everyone knows what a solution looks like: withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank, dismantling of the settlements, an end to the Gaza embargo, the division of Jerusalem, some swapping of land to account for slight changes in borders (especially around the capital), and a formula to account for the Palestinians’ right-of-return, involving financial compensation — plus security arrangements. But months later, Obama has refused to even hint at his own plan for the region, caving in to Israel’s demands that all of that be saved for “negotiations.” Score: Netanyahu 3, Obama 0.
Finally, the United States cravenly supported Israel over the Goldstone Report on Gaza, the report that accused Israel (and Hamas) of war crimes during the December-January conflict there. Score: Netanyahu 4, Obama 0.
Secretary of State Clinton then put the final icing on the rotten cake, praising Netanyahu, an extremist, far-right ultra-nationalist, for his decision to expand, not halt, settlements. Clinton’s blunder, which shocked and stunned Palestinians and Arab leaders, represented the ultimate cave-in to Netanyahu and Co. Final score: Netanyahu 5, Obama 0.
Reports the New York Times today:
“Mrs. Clinton’s visit, which she characterized as a success, sowed anger and confusion among Palestinians and other Arabs after she praised as ‘unprecedented’ the offer by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to slow down, but not stop, construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”
One of the Palestinians’ most experienced, veteran deal-makers, Nabil Shaath, a Fatah old-timer said of Obama’s collapse:
“There was high expectation when he arrived on the scene. Now there is a total retreat, which has destroyed trust instead of building trust.”
Abbas may or may not reconsider his decision, and of course the elections that are supposed to take place in January are still in limbo over the inability of Fatah and Hamas to strike a deal. But, by refusing to compel Israel to make a real offer to the Palestinians, the United States has once again shafted Palestinian moderates like Abbas, who can’t credibly claim to have won anything for their constituents. In so doing, Obama is fueling the extremists, bomb-makers, and rocket launchers in Hamas, a fundamentalist, Muslim Brotherhood-founded movement that wants no compromise. Heck of a job, Baracky!
Abbas said that he was “surprised” — bitterly angry and really pissed off, is more accurate, I am sure — by Clinton’s comments on Israel’s settlements policy. And Clinton, asked about Abbas’ move, delivered an insouciant fuck-you to Abbas: “We talked about his own political future. I look forward to working with President Abbas in any new capacity.”