Mahmoud Abbas' move to propose a referendum on Palestinian statehood to the United Nations has thrust the delicate issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict back on the world stage and refocused attention on American diplomacy in the Middle East.
Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, Barack Obama engaged in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process early and often during in his first term as President. In May 2011, following nearly 18 months of diplomacy, Mr. Obama proposed his outlines of what a future settlement would look like. The basis of Mr. Obama's proposal was that the future borders of Israel and Palestine would be charted along the 1967 armistice lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps.
Mr. Obama's plan was immediately derided by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his supporters in the United States. In a stunning moment in U.S./Israeli relations, Mr. Netanyahu received grandiose applause from House Democrats and Republicans after using his address to congress to rebuff Mr. Obama's peace proposal. This was the first time I witnessed a foreign leader being cheered by our congress for upbraiding an American president - approximately 25 times no less.
In the following weeks, Mr. Obama was characterized as either anti-semitic, incompetent or both. GOP standard-bearer, Charles Krauthammer, called the President an ignorant, blundering amateur and accused him of derailing the peace process. I was amazed by the wave of emails I received from fellow Jews, many of whom had voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, asserting that the President was jeopardizing the future of the Israeli state.
Five months and zero peace treaties later, Israel finds itself in intense isolation in the wake of the Arab Spring and diplomatic implosions with longtime allies Turkey and Egypt. America is the precarious position of potentially being the only Security Council member to cast a veto against the Palestinian statehood referendum at the United Nations. This matters because a U.S. veto will further tarnish America's standing in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond at the exact moment when the citizens of those regions will be able to influence their own destiny as never before.
Against this backdrop, there has been a renewed push for peace from the usual, and not so usual, suspects. Last week, former Israeli Prime Minster, Ehud Barack, published an OP-ED in the New York Times titled "Peace Now, or Never".
As Mr. Barack pointed out:
"The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching offer to Mr. Abbas."
Mr. Barack supported President Obama's contention that the 1967 borders, plus land swaps, should be the basis for the future Israeli and Palestinian states. He also provided further detail by asserting that Jerusalem should be partitioned into co-capitals for both peoples, that the future Palestinian state should be demilitarized and that the Palestinians must give up the right of return to Israel except on rare, humanitarian grounds.
It should be noted that Mr. Barack is no dove. He served in the Israeli army, held the post of Minister of Defense in the Israeli government and succeeded Ariel Sharon as the leader of the Kadima party. He is not a Peace Now liberal.
Yet no American politician has accused Mr. Barack of being anti-semitic or anti-Israel. Charles Krauthammer has not called him "an ignorant, blundering amateur". This deafening silence is due to the fact that Mr. Barack and Mr. Obama have the right idea on Israel and Palestine. Mr. Obama's land-for-peace proposals were, and are, centrist policy prescriptions and not the wild, anti-Israel musings described by his detractors.
To quote Mr. Barack again:
"We Israelis simply do not have the luxury of spending more time postponing a solution. A further delay will only help extremists on both sides who seek to sabotage any prospect of a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution...
The window of opportunity is limited. Israel will not always find itself sitting across the table from Palestinian leaders like Mr. Abbas and the prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who object to terrorism and want peace. Indeed, future Palestinian leaders might abandon the idea of two states and seek a one-state solution, making reconciliation impossible.
Now is the time. There will be no better one. I hope that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas will meet the challenge."
Unfortunately, the damage has been done. Judging from his own speech to the United Nations, Mr. Obama has largely given up on moving the needle on Israel and Palestine. For the moment, the Greater Israel crowd and its supporters in the U.S. have won.
That's too bad because Israel and America may never have as much ability to influence the peace process as they do right now. Peace negotiations will be difficult and Hamas will continue to be an enormous obstacle. But it is tragic that instead of operating from positions of strength, America and Israel are setting the table for another century of bloodshed, instability and righteous victimhood.
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