Obama and the Plight of the Palestinian Nation

Why does President Barack Obama remember the Palestinian issue only now? He chose to begin with it during his first term in the White House, then forgot about it, or at least has been unable to achieve any progress since then. Is it an attempt to attract attention after France took action on Francois Hollande’s initiative? That initiative dates back to Hollande’s announcement, after talks with President Mahmoud Abbas at the Élysée Palace last April 15. On the other hand, it could be attributed to an attempt to improve the image of Obama’s foreign policy. Or, perhaps it is an attempt to leave behind a roadmap to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for his successor in the White House. Two days ago, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault invited his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to a meeting in Paris, which will be held this coming Monday. Other countries will also be in attendance. The goal is to look into the violent developments in Aleppo. But Western diplomatic sources in Beirut confirm that Hollande’s Palestinian initiative would be an important part of the talks at the meeting. This paves the way for the international ministerial meeting to be held on May 30 in Paris to discuss the initiative, which begins on the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which consisted of a series of summit meetings and had the approval of the late Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

Less than a week after Hollande announced his initiative, discussion began in Washington about the American administration launching a new movement to resuscitate the peace process between Israel and Palestine. However, analyst and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer wrote an insightful article in a publication released by Congress: His article said that 394 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to the White House, to the effect that a solution to the conflict could not be imposed from the exterior, and that the Palestinians and the Israelis alone were capable of ending their conflict.

The message was clear: The goal was to remind Obama that Congress, which previously called on Benjamin Netanyahu to give an address, despite the opposition of the White House, and which has always opposed all diplomatic movements undertaken to resolve the Palestinian question, will not accept any such proposals now that Obama is approaching the end of his term. To confirm this point, Congress members John Yarmuth and David Price presented a draft resolution, supporting Israeli security and opposing Palestinian authorities’ efforts to bring Tel Aviv before the International Court of Justice on the basis of settlement operations and Jewish seizure of Palestinian lands.

We must return to the question, why is Obama now reviving the Palestinian question, which he had initially chosen as his gateway to mending American relations with the Arab world after the wars of his predecessor George Bush? The project initially resulted in blatant failure and prompted the rapid turn toward conciliation with Iran and the signing of the nuclear deal (which was signed behind the backs of America’s Gulf allies). This caused increased distancing in American-Arab relations. Is this an attempt to smite Hollande’s initiative, despite Israel’s immediate rejection of the French plan? Is this related to Obama’s profound feeling of leaving empty-handed on all fronts of his foreign policy? These setbacks are illustrated by continued chants of “death to America… and death to the great Satan” in Iran, and by the challenges presented in Crimea and Ukraine by Vladamir Putin, who has also created political obstacles and setbacks for Obama in Syria. It’s not a secret that many of the ministers and diplomats who worked with Obama during his first term accuse him of being worse than George Bush. This is based on the commonly held view in Washington that “excessive withdrawal is worse than excessive intervention.”

Diplomatic reports indicate two possibilities laid out by the White House for Obama’s final attempts on the Palestinian question:

The first is the development of a formula that incorporates his ideas and beliefs about the conflict in creating a solution deemed just and acceptable to both sides. This formula would be the foundation and starting point for Washington to produce a statement, to be issued by the United Nations Security Council. The ideas would need to be adopted before the end of Obama’s presidential term next Jan. 21. This has produced strong opposition from the Democratic leadership, which fears that the Jewish voice may play a determinative role in pressuring the current candidates to reject this idea during the presidential elections.

The other possibility is an invitation to a final conference to be attended by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. It would be inaugurated by a “historical address” delivered by Barack Obama, presenting the most important matters and entry points for effectively achieving the peace process. On this topic, Daniel Kurtzer, in his article in the congressional journal, The Hill, says that the Palestinians and Israelis entered into serious discussions once with Bill Clinton. This was based on Clinton’s vision from the year 2000, but the two parties then backtracked. Serious discussions were once again held in 2008 with George W. Bush and his vision of establishing two states. But that doesn’t eliminate the risks that worry the Democratic Party because of the elections and Netanyahu’s clear opposition to attending such a conference, which would lay out a roadmap for Obama’s successor.

These American ideas have proven unable to sideline the French initiative, even though Netanyahu has strongly condemned the initiative from the beginning. The American ideas have also called to mind the many failed stages for Obama in his work on the Palestinian issue, starting from when he stood in the large reception room at Cairo University on June 4 [2009], discussing the plans he named “A New Beginning.” The centerpiece was to be the implementation of George W. Bush’s plan to establish a Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state. Obama then repeated his message two days later in Istanbul: There is no solution to the Middle Eastern issues except with the foundation of a two-state solution.

His first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, visited Israel seven times between 2008 and 2013 and was unable to advance one single step toward a settlement. John Kerry, who followed Clinton in the State Department in 2013, has gone to Israel 11 times in attempts to budge Netanyahu toward a just and lasting solution. However, Kerry has not been able to stop a single bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home or displacing its residents.

What has brought Obama back around to the issue defining this age, which has resulted in failure for him since the beginning of his presidency? Particularly, why has he chosen to do so in the final minutes remaining in his term and during an election period, since the Jewish voice plays a large role in American politics? Why would Obama address the Palestinian question at the end, in a statement that could only be penned in bitterness? Even a conference would be no more than recognition of a sense of bitterness — I tried, but I failed.

In either case, it will be only a laughable farewell, without tears or sorrow. At least, that is the case for the region extending from Crimea and Ukraine to Syria and Aleppo. These areas have been massacred by iron and fire, with the full cognizance of the White House, including the massacre of the residents of Ghouta (greater Damascus) by chemical weapons. Obama just looked on and swallowed hard.

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