Last week, a credibly sourced story in The Washington Post suggested that President Obama is “seriously considering” a peace plan that resembles those put forth by his predecessors. It would build on land-for-peace formulas and “past progress” on some of the stickiest issues, including the Palestinian “right of return” and the status of Jerusalem. A senior official said that “90 percent of the map would look the same” as it did in previous negotiations.
The plan and its goals largely resemble those supported by prior Israeli governments and majorities of American Jews; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself is on record as a supporter of a two-state solution. However, in the current toxic diplomatic environment, talk of a unilateral push by the United States sounds premature and could very well backfire.
(It’s hardly comforting that among a rotating series of current and former officials offering the president advice is Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser for Jimmy Carter, whose views many in the Jewish community see as uncomfortably close to his former boss’s.)
Netanyahu, sitting atop a precariously assembled coalition, will understandably bristle if forced to choose between accepting an imposed American process and his political survival. Nor would any Israeli leader want to stake his or her reputation on the Palestinian record for undermining good-faith negotiations, a la Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas also would enter an assertive new process having compromised on exactly nothing. “The Palestinians have no motivation even to contemplate negotiations because they expect the administration to squeeze Israel for them,” as Dan Schueftan, of the University of Haifa, told columnist Douglas Bloomfield.
Schueftan points out another risk of the American enterprise: “It raises Arab expectations to an unattainable level. The U.S. will be blamed for its failure, and America’s international stature and influence will suffer greatly.”
No one side can go it alone in this region. Netanyahu needs a working relationship with the Obama administration if he is to face the Iranian threat and rescue Israel from the status quo; Abbas needs to know that he must make peace with Israel, not America.
As for the United States: If the administration hopes to succeed, it must do a better job of establishing trust with Netanyahu, the Israeli street, and America’s pro-Israel community, and remind the Palestinians that they are not about to get a free ride.