President Obama reportedly would like to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas together when he visits Israel next month. Well, if he does, he’d have forced the Palestinian Authority to give up its ludicrous precondition (one Obama helped foster) that there must be a total settlement freeze before Abbas sits down with Israeli officials. More power to him if he can undue that four-year knot.
But more to the point, what would Obama say and why would he want such a meeting, other than for the optics?
Right now Abbas is in league with Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza. So whom would Abbas speak for, and if it is Hamas, as well as Fatah, has Hamas signed onto the Quartet principles which are a necessity for negotiations?
Abbas was offered the sun and the moon (and most of the West Bank) in a 2008 peace deal by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, but said no. Isn’t Abbas even less likely to accept such a deal now with Hamas on board? So, really, what is the point?
Moreover, there are really big problems in the region — Syria, the destabilization of Lebanon, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government and the Iranian nuclear threat. The Palestinian Authority has virtually nothing to do with any of those. (Although Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas certainly makes peace between the Palestinian Authority and Israel virtually impossible.) So why focus on the moribund “peace process”? This is “linkage,” I guess, on steroids.
What constructive role could Obama play in such a meeting? Well, he could tell Abbas he needs to make a choice between Hamas and statehood. The two are mutually exclusive as far as Israel is concerned. He could tell Abbas that if he is not empowered to give up the “right of return” he is never going to get a state because Israel must remain Jewish and the Palestinians must “return” to their own state. But aside from that sort of tough talk, which Obama seems disinclined to engage in unless it is Israel with whom he is talking, I don’t see much good to come of such a meeting.
Moreover, it would make a unwise statement about the U.S. priorities in a region with very immediate and grave problems. With Iran, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon in various states of chaos it would give the appearance that Obama cares mostly about a failed “peace process.” The most productive thing Obama could do would be to make our position on Iran explicit and indivisible from Israel’s. Obama could also show solidarity with our only two stable allies in that corner of the world, Israel and Jordan, and make clear that better relations with the United States and a better life for their people require economic and political reform.