A day before meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, President Obama issued an implicit threat to Israel that America’s ability to “manage the international fallout is going to be limited” if Israel does not agree to an Obama-brokered peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.
Obama made his statement in an interview published Sunday with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg News. Obama’s confrontational statements were released just as Netanyahu was leaving Israel for what had been anticipated to be an unpressured Oval Office meeting focusing largely on developments in Iran and Ukraine.
In today’s world, “the absence of international goodwill makes you less safe,” Obama said. “The condemnation of the international community can translate into a lack of cooperation when it comes to key security interests. It means reduced influence for us, the United States, in issues that are of interest to Israel. It is survivable, but it is not preferable.”
“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
The timing of Obama’s statements called to mind his similarly-timed statement on the eve of Netanyahu’s 2011 visit to Washington, where Obama shocked the Israelis by publicly calling for the 1949 Armistice lines to be the starting point for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations over final borders.
President George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor, had previously called Israel’s withdrawal to those lines “unrealistic”, given Israeli security needs and the presence of large Israeli settlement blocs.
Obama’s veiled threat echoes those statements of Secretary of State John F. Kerry over the past months viewed by Israel as providing incitement for another Palestinian “intifada” and for international sanctions to be leveled against Israel should peace talks fail.
The President also criticized Israel for maintaining “a chronic situation” regarding the Palestinians, and for policies which would lead to an unmanageable situation. Yet, Obama made no mention of any core issues where the Palestinians have indicated any flexibility.
Obama’s statements about the pace of “settlement” construction should be particularly worrisome to Israel. Israel, in fact, has not recently engaged aggressively in construction in the West Bank, even once imposing a nine-month building freeze. Thus, that Obama’s statement likely refers to Israeli construction entirely within neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Obama’s statements could thus be viewed as not recognizing as legitimate Israel’s sovereignty over longstanding Jewish neighborhoods which make up large swaths of Jerusalem’s landscape.