Obama shoots self in foot on Mideast negotiations

Leo Rennert
President Obama's Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, ended his latest shuttle mission to the region a few hours before the start of the Jewish New Year -- with prospects for resumption of high-level Israel-Palestinian peace talks as elusive as ever.  It's also clear that Mitchell struck out in his efforts to arrange a three-way summit of Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas next week at the UN in New York.

This is the first time in recent years that an American president can't even arrange for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to get together in the same room, let alone conduct serious negotiations.

It needn't have been so.  For more than a year before George W. Bush left the White House, Israeli and Palestinian leaders and negotiators met frequently and even went to far as to address final-status issues on the path to an eventual peace agreement.  Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas met without pre-conditions.  So did then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with her Palestinian negotiating counterpart.

In the end, impasses over borders, refugees and Jerusalem couldn't be resolved despite these extensive contacts.

Enter Barack Obama, who lambasted Bush during the campaign for not engaging in the peace process from the first day of his administration (as if that was such a possible realistic scenario with a duplicitous, pro-terrorist Yasser Arafat in charge of the Palestinian side).  Obama vowed that he would be the un-Bush and demonstrate greater personal leadership and do what no previous president had been able to accomplish -- put an end to the conflict on the basis of Israel and a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side

Pumped up by hubris, eager to break past deadlocks and get things moving quickly, Obama wasn't just satisfied in prodding the two parties back to the negotiating table.  Had he made that his first-step move, he would have encountered few, if any, obstacles.  Abbas didn't object to meeting time and again with Ehud Olmert -- without an absolute Israeli construction freeze in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem.  And Israel's new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called for immediate resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks from the first day he took office.

But Obama, as is his wont, had to overreach and show he could force the key players to first make substantive confidence-building moves even before they even started negotiating again.

So, as a prelude to negotiations, Obama demanded an absolute Israeli construction freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a start by Arab nations toward normalization with Israel, and moves by the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist groups and put an end to anti-Israel incitement in PA organs.  The big new wrinkle, however, was Obama pressuring Israel to make significant concessions -- even before there was any resumption of negotiations and while he was being snubbed and publicly humilitated by Arab leaders and Abbas who, taking him on his game, counted on him to force Israel to make unilateral concessions.

Abbas, during a trip to Washington, even boasted in an interview with the Washington Post that he didn't need to reciprocate in getting the peace process moving again because, under Obama's new criteria, the ball was entirely in Israel's court.  For their part, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab League similarly rejected Obama's demands for some moves on their parts.  Only Netanyahu's responded in some positive fashion, going even further than Olmert had gone by offering a limited-duration Israeli moratorium on new settlement construction projects in the West Bank to test the good faith of Arab Leaders and the PA.

But instead of Israel and the Palestinians returning to the negotiating table, the entire process since Jan. 20 has been changed into Israel and Washington negotiating unilateral Israeli concessions -- with no reciprocity from the other side.  Under Bush, Israel and the Palestinians were meeting.  With Obama, there hasn't been a single such meeting -- and the prospect for resumption of bilateral negotiations looks as bleak as ever.

That's what happens when a president thinks that his charm and charisma can work miracles.  In the Middle East, there are no miracle workers.
President Obama's Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, ended his latest shuttle mission to the region a few hours before the start of the Jewish New Year -- with prospects for resumption of high-level Israel-Palestinian peace talks as elusive as ever.  It's also clear that Mitchell struck out in his efforts to arrange a three-way summit of Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas next week at the UN in New York.

This is the first time in recent years that an American president can't even arrange for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to get together in the same room, let alone conduct serious negotiations.

It needn't have been so.  For more than a year before George W. Bush left the White House, Israeli and Palestinian leaders and negotiators met frequently and even went to far as to address final-status issues on the path to an eventual peace agreement.  Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas met without pre-conditions.  So did then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with her Palestinian negotiating counterpart.

In the end, impasses over borders, refugees and Jerusalem couldn't be resolved despite these extensive contacts.

Enter Barack Obama, who lambasted Bush during the campaign for not engaging in the peace process from the first day of his administration (as if that was such a possible realistic scenario with a duplicitous, pro-terrorist Yasser Arafat in charge of the Palestinian side).  Obama vowed that he would be the un-Bush and demonstrate greater personal leadership and do what no previous president had been able to accomplish -- put an end to the conflict on the basis of Israel and a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side

Pumped up by hubris, eager to break past deadlocks and get things moving quickly, Obama wasn't just satisfied in prodding the two parties back to the negotiating table.  Had he made that his first-step move, he would have encountered few, if any, obstacles.  Abbas didn't object to meeting time and again with Ehud Olmert -- without an absolute Israeli construction freeze in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem.  And Israel's new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called for immediate resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks from the first day he took office.

But Obama, as is his wont, had to overreach and show he could force the key players to first make substantive confidence-building moves even before they even started negotiating again.

So, as a prelude to negotiations, Obama demanded an absolute Israeli construction freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a start by Arab nations toward normalization with Israel, and moves by the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terrorist groups and put an end to anti-Israel incitement in PA organs.  The big new wrinkle, however, was Obama pressuring Israel to make significant concessions -- even before there was any resumption of negotiations and while he was being snubbed and publicly humilitated by Arab leaders and Abbas who, taking him on his game, counted on him to force Israel to make unilateral concessions.

Abbas, during a trip to Washington, even boasted in an interview with the Washington Post that he didn't need to reciprocate in getting the peace process moving again because, under Obama's new criteria, the ball was entirely in Israel's court.  For their part, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab League similarly rejected Obama's demands for some moves on their parts.  Only Netanyahu's responded in some positive fashion, going even further than Olmert had gone by offering a limited-duration Israeli moratorium on new settlement construction projects in the West Bank to test the good faith of Arab Leaders and the PA.

But instead of Israel and the Palestinians returning to the negotiating table, the entire process since Jan. 20 has been changed into Israel and Washington negotiating unilateral Israeli concessions -- with no reciprocity from the other side.  Under Bush, Israel and the Palestinians were meeting.  With Obama, there hasn't been a single such meeting -- and the prospect for resumption of bilateral negotiations looks as bleak as ever.

That's what happens when a president thinks that his charm and charisma can work miracles.  In the Middle East, there are no miracle workers.