Jackson Diehl broke some news yesterday that shouldn’t be overlooked amid the news of Libya, the budget and other headlines. As Diehl related, the Obama team hasn’t given up on turning the screws on Israel to come up with more concessions in the moribund “peace process”:
A “senior defense official” accompanying Defense Secretary Robert Gates on his visit to Tel Aviv last week put it this way: “The Israelis have a very deep strategic interest in getting out in front of the wave of populism that is sweeping the region . . . showing progress on the peace track with the Palestinians would put them in a much better position for where the region’s likely to be six months or a year from now.”
The wave of “populism,” as the administration calls it, is the non-Israel-related struggle of Muslims to throw off their despots. So how exactly does this translate into more concessions (“getting out in front of the wave of populism”)?
Even worse is the reaction of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who seems ready to throw in the towel on key positions:
Netanyahu feels compelled to counter the Palestinian offensive at the United Nations, which his defense minister, Ehud Barak, says could turn into “an anti-Israeli diplomatic tsunami.” For that he will need the support of Obama. So Netanyahu has committed himself to deliver what could be the most-anticipated speech in Israel’s history — an address to the U.S. Congress in May in which he is to lay out a new “vision” for peace.
To satisfy Abbas and Obama, Netanyahu will have to promise a significant concession. In the words of the Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar, “he will have to utter, with his own mouth, the magic words” — that a Palestinian state will be based on Israel returning to its 1967 borders. But if he does that, Netanyahu will infuriate most of his cabinet and probably cause the collapse of his coalition. His supporters believe he will also give up Israel’s best negotiating chip — territory — before the real bargaining even begins.
One really has to ask why President Obama is so obsessed with wringing concessions from our ally and, moreover, why Bibi, after managing the Obama relationship relatively well for more than two years, would turn tail. A foreign policy guru on the Hill tells me, “At a moment when Arab tyrannies are tottering and Iran continues to be on the march toward a nuclear bomb, the president has the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, in his sights. It is not true that the president lacks a strategic big idea in foreign policy — his passion is to force Israel to accept the creation of a Palestinian state regardless of the security threat it may pose to the Jewish state.”
Perhaps the prime minister, if not persuaded by his voters, party and coalition partners, might want to consider this report from the Associated Press:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is making a heavy push for reconciliation with Hamas and is willing to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid if that’s what it takes to forge a Palestinian unity deal, a top aide said Monday.
The comments were the latest sign that Abbas is giving up on stalled peace talks with Israel and prefers to pursue unity with Gaza’s Hamas rulers as he makes a push toward independence.
“Of course we need the American money. But if they use it as a way of pressuring us, we are ready to relinquish that aid,” said Azzam Ahmed, an Abbas aide.
You know, maybe it’s not the best time for Israel to be giving up territorial claims. Just saying. And why is it the United States isn’t strong-arming Abbas to get out in front of that populist uprising in the region? Well, I think the president has made his priorities and preferred clients perfectly clear.