Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Barack Obama: breaking down mideast peace negotiations

I've never been optimistic that discussions between Abbas and Netanyahu would lead to any result that would bring peace to that troubled region. But the Obama administration adopted this as their goal and set about trying to bring the two together. Ironically, as Jackson Diehl details in the Washington Post how Obama's inept handling of the negotiations guaranteed failure. Obama and Hillary Clinton had a conniption over settlements being built in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Their adamant response gave Abbas an excuse for refusing to negotiate with Netanyahu but cast all the blame on Israel.
A standoff between Obama and Netanyahu over settlements paralyzed Middle East diplomacy for more than a year, while Abbas happily watched from the sidelines. Netanyahu finally announced a 10-month, partial moratorium on new settlement construction. In July, following a meeting at the White House, it looked like the U.S. and Israeli leaders had overcome their differences. Obama said nothing about settlements afterward, and instead urged Abbas to begin direct talks with Netanyahu.

Yet to the surprise of both Netanyahu and some in his own administration, Obama reintroduced the settlement issue. First in a press conference and then in his September address to the UN General Assembly, he called on the Israeli government to extend the settlement moratorium, which expired on Sept. 26. In doing so, he made it impossible for Abbas not to make the same demand.

In his television interview, Abbas said that Netanyahu had told him that he could not extend the settlement moratorium without causing his right-wing government to collapse. So both leaders are trapped. Netanyahu is a hostage to his cabinet; and Abbas is the prisoner of Obama's misguided rhetoric.
Remember how Obama was supposed to usher in a whole new era in the Middle East? And Hillary Clinton is supposed to be the smartest woman in the world and a gifted choice for leading American diplomacy? We sure haven't seen any evidence of their gifts lately and their bungling of diplomatic efforts in the Middle East demonstrates more about their weaknesses in grasping the situation than it does about the possibilities for peace in the area.