For three days running, Al-Jazeera has been pounding the Palestinian Authority with release of hundreds of PA negotiating documents, which show Mahmoud Abbas as a two-faced leader -- publicly insisting on getting all of East Jerusalem, including the entire Old City, while privately agreeing to Israel's retention of virtually all Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern sector of Israel's capital. Or as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat put it to an Israeli interlocutor: "We're giving you the largest Jewish Yerushalaim ever."
With the Palestinians being that flexible and pragmatic about Jerusalem, the question arises why, given this progress on the private negotiating track, Obama would, in his first try at Mideast diplomacy, put all his chips on pressuring Israel to institute as the first order of business a permanent building freeze in these same Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Since the Palestinians already signaled that they would agree to leave them under Israeli control in a permanent peace agreement, why would a President of the United States insist on demanding concessions from Israel on an issue that the Palestinians already had written off as not a big priority and, in fact, completely unnecessary in their pursuit of Palestinians statehood?
Since Israel would retain these neighborhoods anyway, what was the great urgency under Obama to put them front and center on the U.S. agenda?
As it turned out, Abbas -- while already having written off these neighborhoods in his private negotiations with Israel -- felt naturally compelled to be at least as tough on Israel as Obama and publicly seconded the U.S. demand for a total freeze of Jewish neighborhoods in Eastern Jerusalem.
The result was an embarrassment for both the U.S. and Abbas as a result of an ill-advised, quixotic initiative by Obama the first time out of the Mideast diplomatic box. By raising the temperature over Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, Obama set off a chain reaction of totally unnecessary tensions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who stood firm and insisted that Jewish neighborhoods in Israel's capital were not going to be on the negotiating table -- especially since these were the same neighborhoods Abbas already had abjured in private.
It took many months to repair a totally unnecessary rift between Washington and Jerusalem. In his first time at bat in the big Mideast diplomatic league, Obama struck out spectacularly -- as Al-Jazeera's trove of leaked documents makes amply clear.