Oy Vey! Between Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas

In Yiddish, the language of my grandparents, the expression in the title of this column reflects a state of exasperation, and nothing is more natural with Barack Obama’s first appearance as U.S. president in Israel and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. The visit also includes a stop in Jordan. By the way, Obama selected the region for the first international trip of his second term.

But the White House insists on lowering expectations for a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. In his first term, Obama thought he could achieve it. His failure was rooted in the illusion that an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians could be negotiated quickly. He butted heads with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about enacting a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and nothing could extract any information from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. There will not be a shared reunion between the three on the American president’s trip.

It is exasperating trying to reach an agreement when mutual accusations arise out of inflexibility and distrust. Netanyahu does not want to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state in substantive terms, and he cannot, anyway, with his new government coalition, which is even more indolent than him about constructing a viable project in the West Bank. The team is more interested in constructing more Jewish settlements in the future Palestinian state. And if Gaza, under Hamas’ control, joins the conversation, everything will become even more exasperating. So, on the Palestinian front, we have the inefficacy of Abbas and Hamas, which do not even recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.

I still think Abbas is the only viable interlocutor for Israel. It is either with him or with him. That said, he does not have the capital to negotiate right now. Obama succeeded in his recent mission by lowering expectations and making it clear that the only solution on the horizon involves two states: Israel and Palestine.

The parameters are familiar: territorial division around borders prior to the war of 1967 with adjustments and land swaps, permitting the majority of Jewish settlers in the West Bank to stay inside Israel and share Jerusalem and the end of the Palestinian fantasy of refugees having the right to return to Israel.

Speaking of fantasy, it is necessary to comprehend an extremely dangerous one: the idea of just one state, which is defended by romantics, casting their faith in binational coexistence, and by radicals on both sides, who believe in a completely Jewish or completely Arab holy land. For the sake of this maximalism, those inconvenienced can move, die or surrender to oppression.

Today, there is no political and emotional space for ambitious negotiations. The peace process does not exist. At the moment, Obama and the international community can at least keep alive the paradigm of two states. The one who needs that the most is Israel, in order to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state. Demographics are the enemy of the Jews. Both attributes, Judaism and democracy, can only prosper in a state with a Jewish majority. Therefore, nothing would come from the annexation or permanent settlement of the lands of the future Palestinian state.

The two-state paradigm is vital to Obama maintaining his position as mediator and to U.S. strategic interests. However, Netanyahu does not want much talk of the Palestinians — he lives in a state of denial. He wants to talk about another crucial subject: the Iranian nuclear crisis. I finish with the exasperating tone of a declaration by Aaron David Miller, a veteran U.S. negotiator in the region: “Will Obama want to be the president who was in power when the chance of a two-state solution disappeared, or when Iran obtained nuclear arms or we went to war against them?” *

Oy vey!

* This quote is accurately translated as presented in the article. The actual quote from Aaron David Miller reads: “And then there’s some serious issues, not only Syria, but the reality is if Barack Obama doesn’t want to be the American president on whose watch Iran gets a nuclear weapon and on whose watch the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem expires, he’s going to have to find a way to work with Netanyahu.”

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