Monday, April 07, 2014

Did Obama sabotage Kerry on peace talks?

Or is this story even true? Is it actually one of those “good-cop/bad-cop” tales instead?
It’s difficult to say, but I vote ever-so-slightly for “true.” My opinion of John Kerry is very low, but I think more of him than I do of Obama.
The following seems quite characteristic of the president:
An Israeli newspaper is reporting that two officials close to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are quietly accusing President Barack Obama of sabotaging Middle East peace efforts after giving an interview in which he sharply criticized Israeli government policy.
The unnamed officials also claim that Kerry was never given a heads-up that the president had planned an interview with reporter Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View…
Eli Bardenstein, diplomatic correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Maariv, reported Wednesday that “those close to Secretary of State John Kerry claim in private conversations that President Barack Obama sabotaged Kerry’s efforts to reach agreements over the framework agreement, in the aggressive interview he gave” Goldberg.
“Maariv has learned that the White House hid even from Kerry the very existence of the interview, in a way that is unacceptable in the U.S. capital,” the Israeli reporter added.
Such behavior would certainly be consistent with Obama’s arrogance, his go-it-alone sense of self, and his disregard for the ideas of others except for a few extremely trusted advisors. He has alienated even many of his friends and supporters—certainly quite a few of the Democrats in Congress—on a personal level by having very little to do with them, not asking their advice, and not even letting them know what he’s planning before he does it.

It’s well-known that Obama thinks he’s smarter than anyone around him, and it isn’t even a point of view he tries to hide. It didn’t take years of the presidency to make him feel that way, either; he believed it even when he was running for president the first time:
Obama said…to Patrick Gaspard, whom he hired to be the campaign’s political director. “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Obama told him. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
Obama measures most policy advisors and Cabinet members by how well they comply with his wishes and follow his orders, not for their input, challenge, or disagreement.
Note also this quote, emphasizing the role of Valerie Jarrett (one of the very few people he trusts), and making it clear that Obama is not interested in what Kerry might do on his own, or in achieving any “special cooperation” with the Israeli team:
Though Kerry allegedly wasn’t aware of the interview, Maariv’s unnamed D.C. sources speculated that Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett took an active part in arranging the Bloomberg interview.
One unnamed source told the paper, “It’s possible that Obama wasn’t fully up to date on the special cooperation that Kerry had achieved with Netanyahu and his team with the Israeli team. It’s also possible he ignored it.”
Anything’s possible, I guess—except that Obama had Israel’s or America’s interests at heart.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]
The two points that stick out in these paragraphs are:
  1. Obama implies that if Israel doesn't make peace he may no longer be willing to defend it in international fora.
  2. Israel has a unique opportunity to make a deal with Abbas, something it may not have again.
(There are number of problems with these assertions. If Obama says that it's harder to defense Israel now than it was 20 years ago, he's going back to the beginning of the Oslo Accords. He's saying that after twenty years of negotiating with the Palestinians; giving them land and money; and being repaid with violence and betrayal Israel is more vilified than it was before. By Obama's telling Israel has been weakened by the peace process. Would it not make sense then for Israel to withdraw from the peace process? If Obama believes that Abbas is unique not only among Arabs but among Palestinians, what sort of risk would further withdrawals entail for Israel? We've already seen the costs that withdrawing from Gaza and southern Lebanon engendered. If there's no one among the Palestinians committed to keeping the terms of any agreement reached by Abbas wouldn't the risks to Israel's security be even greater as the bulge of Samaria shrinks Israel's "waistline" to roughly 8 miles?)
In these two paragraphs Obama telegraphed two messages. The first is that the United States sees making peace as more important (if not essential) for Israel than for the Palestinians.  The second message is that he sees Abbas as being indispensable to peace.
Knowing that the cost to defying the United States is non-existent and that he has the full support of the President, Abbas had no incentive to negotiate. So when the prisoner releases were at the end he decided to up the ante and, when he didn't get that, walked away.
Why isn't the idea of running his own state incentive enough to negotiate?
Because Abbas thinks he get his state on the cheap. He (and Arafat before him) did nothing to build political support for peace. When Arafat didn't get what he want he turned to violence. When Abbas hasn't gotten what he wanted he's sought to circumvent negotiations. Jackson Diehl wrote about this strategy early in Obama's presidency:
Yet on Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula. ...
Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. "The Americans are the leaders of the world," Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.' "
(Emphasis mine.)
When Obama was elected, Abbas saw a possibility that he could America to do his dirty work. That hasn't worked so far. (Well it's worked enough to damage Israel's reputation in some circles, but it hasn't gotten Abbas what he wanted.)
So now Abbas is going back to what Jonathan Schanzer identified as the Palestine 194 strategy.
Abbas, who has led the Palestinian Authority well past his legal mandate (his term ended in 2009), is almost certainly set to renew the international campaign for recognition of Palestinian statehood. It's a campaign known in Ramallah as the "Palestine 194" campaign.
This initiative had been in the works, with fits and starts, since 2005. That year, Abbas reportedly traveled to Brazil for a summit of South American and Arab states, and met privately with Brazil's leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. There, da Silva supposedly told Abbas that when he neared the end of his second term (which expired on January 1, 2011), he would help build a Latin American consensus for a unilateral Palestinian statehood declaration at the UN.
Between 2009 and 2011, Abbas and Lula made good on their plan, recruiting scores of Latin American [5] and other non-aligned states to recognize the State of Palestine. The campaign also included European states such as France, Spain, Portugal and Norway. In 2010, at an Arab League meeting in Sirte, Abbas made one of his first references to the "Palestine 194 [6]" campaign. The name said it all: there are currently 193 member-states in the United Nations, and the Palestinians were unambiguous about their desire to become the 194th.
President Obama with his "time is running on Israel" belief (backed by Kerry's "worried about Israel's future" ruminations) has signaled to Abbas that he has nothing to fear. He could ditch the talks with no consequence because American pressure would be on Israel. Abbas, quite rationally, obliged.
Am I exaggerating President Obama's role in feeding Abbas's intransigence and scuttling the peace talks?
Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for the left wing Israeli paper Ha'aretz and no friend of the current Israeli government claimed something similar.
In December 2012, a month after Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential elections, columnist Peter Beinart published an article on the news and opinion website The Daily Beast entitled “Why Barack Obama will ignore Israel.” Beinart wrote at the time that during Obama’s second term, he did not intend to clash with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Palestinian issue, but would stand aside and allow the rest of the world, especially the European Union, to ratchet up the pressure on the Israeli PM.
Beinart quoted senior White House officials, who called Obama’s policy toward the peace process “benign neglect.” Those same senior officials said at the time that Netanyahu wanted only to present a pseudo-peace process so as to deflect international pressure; therefore, renewing talks would only help him do so. They explained that only when Netanyahu feels the pressure of isolation very directly will there be any chance that he will change direction and agree to make the tough decisions needed.
Ravid seems to be endorsing Beinart's and Obama's view that "benign neglect" is the best thing for Israel, because only when Israel is confronted with international opprobrium will it make the necessary "hard choices." Furthermore, Obama, according to this sympathetic account, believes that negotiations are a favor to Israel. Both men, each for his own reason, want to see an internationalization of the conflict.
In the Bloomberg interview, Obama made his position clear and planted the seeds of failure for the peace process.


Anonymous said...

How can you sabotage talks that were doomed to fail before they even started?
Abbas was always going to walk.
Anyway, if Obama sabotaged the talks, we should all send him a Thank You card for saving us from our moron politicians. We don't need ''peace'' - we need to annex Area C & expel Abbas & his PLO terrorists.

Hans said...

Amen, to the above post!!