The White House wants everyone to know it nixed a Quartet proposal for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with land swaps. The administration let it be known that the United States is all in favor of bilateral negotiations:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Berlin today and was supposed to meet with the other representatives of the Middle East Quartet: Russia, the U.N., and the EU. But the meeting was cancelled after the Obama administration successfully scuttled a European plan to issue a statement that included specifics of a final agreement for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
German officials said the meeting was cancelled due to “scheduling difficulties,” but U.S. and Israel officials told The Cable that the meeting was scuttled over disagreements regarding the EU draft statement, which would have set terms on matters such as borders, security, and settlements. . . .
The Obama administration dispatched National Security Council Senior Director David Hale to the Middle East last week to deal with the issue, multiple officials confirmed. He met with both Palestinian and Israel leaders, as well as a representative of each of the Quartet members.
For the Obama administration, Hale’s effort was a success on two counts. The White House was able to avoid another domestic political problem by acting swiftly to prevent an uproar by pro-Israel community in Washington; and Obama was able to bide time in advance of a major speech on the Middle East he is preparing to make in the coming weeks.
Translation: the Obama administration faces domestic political constraints (U.S. voters are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, and Congress would recoil in horror if Obama tried to jam a deal down Israel’s throat) and international realities (e.g. the Palestinians may be unable to accept any deal in which they have to give up something; the 1967 borders might be the start but they are nowhere near the endpoint of defensible borders for Israel).
Suspicious minds might wonder whether Obama wanted to avoid being upstaged by the Quartet and is going to unveil something nearly as noxious as what the Quartet might have dreamed up. Certainly, Obama could do great damage (well, further damage) to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. But he doesn’t seem to be in the mood for huge political confrontations these days. (If it took Rep. Paul Ryan weeks to drag a budget out of him, is he going to launch a strong-arm operation on Israel that will be denounced by nearly everyone in Congress? It’s possible, but not likely.)
There is, as I have suggested before, a way Congress can show support for the administration’s fine sentiment as voiced by a State Department spokesman: “We’re always open to new ideas and new approaches. But fundamentally, we know what needs to be done, which is to get the parties together, to get them talking about these core issues so that they can resolve them in a fashion that’s sustainable and appropriate to both sides.”
Congress can certainly reiterate in a resolution (I am sure it would garner near-unanimous support) that the United States stands firm on its commitments to international agreements and U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. A listing of those obligations and understandings would be helpful: Oslo, Oslo II, and the U.S. government’s understandings (including Warren Christopher in 1997 and President George W. Bush in 2004) with a succession of Israeli prime ministers. It is important that all the parties understand that there is no daylight between Congress and the president as well as the United States and Israel on these matters.After all, U.S. policy is U.S. policy and our word is our bond, regardless of who temporarily occupies the White House.