Taking Israel off the Table
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The Obama Administration truly has decided that having failed to move the parties in the Israel-Palestinian conflict off square one during their first seven years, they will not engage in any more serious initiatives to bring the parties together for the balance of the Obama presidency. It seems that what the President said only a few months ago is indeed now happening. Barring a major incident; having cleared at least some of the air with Netanyahu during his visit to the White House in November; and with the expectation that there will not be another confrontation assuming Bibi comes for the AIPAC conference in March; the Obama-Kerry team appears to be prepared to pass the baton on this perennially thorny issue on to the next Administration.
Obama recognizes that he has softened if not healed the rift that developed between the two countries during the debate over the Iran deal. Evidence of this is that the military relationship and the ten-year requested weapons deal appears to be proceeding without a hitch. U.S. dissatisfaction with the stagnation on role in the peace process is being ignored or at least minimized by Washington’s sensitive understanding about the persistent, random Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians which continues unabated.
Similarly, President Obama’s appearance and speech at the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day represented another apparently successful effort by the Administration to heal the wounds which have persisted in some circles of the American Jewish community—as well as within Israel. By going to Embassy, Obama also was implicitly burying the anger which he felt towards Israel’s ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer, over his role in the arranging with then Speaker Boehner for Bibi’s “dissing” the President and making his anti-Iran treaty speech directly before the Congress. (In addition, these efforts represented a conscious effort by the President to message Jewish voters who had drifted away from their historical Democratic home, as they consider candidates in the presidential and congressional elections this fall.)
Perhaps the most visible sign of the Administration’s shift in policy towards Israel was the rescinding of the statement by U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro last week in Tel Aviv concerning Israeli activities on the West Bank settlements and then his rapid about face a few days later. In his apologetic comments, Shapiro admitted that his remarks were ill-timed given the continuing terrorist incidents attacking Israeli civilians that were occurring on the West Bank.
This entire period in terms of U.S.-Israel relations has been a rather unproductive period; at least for any peace effort or movement towards a viable two state solution. In fact, it could be suggested that the next Administration—which undoubtedly will be engulfed in a host of Middle East regional issues—will be positioned to watch as both sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may well descend into the final stages of the struggle for a two-state, bi-national, or one-state solution.