If Friday’s Israeli media reports about last week’s Washington visit by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas prove true, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry could well face their most difficult foreign policy challenge to date – namely, figuring out how to blame Israel for Abbas’ rejection of the three key points that compromise Secretary Kerry’s proposed framework agreement.
Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported that Abbas used the occasion of last Monday’s White House meeting with Obama to flatly reject any possibility of accepting Kerry’s framework proposal which was crafted specifically to permit peace talks to continue after the expiration of Abbas’s own nine month deadline next month.
Quoting unnamed US and Israeli officials, the Channel 2 report claimed that Abbas told Obama he refused to include any language in a final peace agreement with Israel that would formally commit Palestinians to permanently end their conflict with Israel. He is reported to said he never accept any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and was, if reports are accurate, most defiant in rejecting any compromise on the so called Palestinian “right of return”; the demand that millions of Palestinian and all their multi-generational descendants be allowed to demographically overwhelm Israel.
Abbas returned from his US trip late Thursday to the Palestinian capital of Ramallah to a hero’s welcome. To rapturous approval, he told the crowd gathered outside the PA administrative complex called the ‘Mukaata’ that “I say to you now– capitulation is not a possibility.”
The problem faced by the Obama Administration in this, the latest Palestinian rejection of a US brokered peace proposal, is that it’s operating presumption that Israel is always the obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; a concept which all major Israeli political parties, including the current ruling Likud party have accepted; now risks being exposed as fatally compromised.
In a much publicised Bloomberg news interview published literally as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route to meet the President in Washington two weeks ago, President Obama prophesied that Israel would find itself diplomatically isolated, economically sanctioned and militarily orphaned if it did not agree to the Obama/Kerry framework plan. That plan included the three provisions summarily rejected by the Palestinians as necessary conditions to win an Israeli agreement to withdrawal from roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and significant portions of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, for the creation Palestinian state.
Until Secretary Kerry tried to dial back American commitments to Israel in testimony before Congress on March 13, official US policy agreed with Israel that any final peace agreement must recognise the country as a Jewish state, and must include binding language that permanently ends the conflict and a resolution of the Palestinian refuge problem that should not include the demographic destruction of Israel.
Now that his plan has been rejected, not by Israel, but by the Palestinians, Obama and other supporters of the Obama/Kerry approach face a real conundrum. Since Abbas rejected the very framework Obama claimed was the only key to secure Israel’s future, the President seemingly faces one of two choices. He could try something he has until now reflexively refused to do, namely assess the fact based evidence to conclude that the real root and source of the Middle East conflict is not Israeli intransigence but Palestinian rejectionism.
Or he could use his reflexes to do what he has always done before when it comes to question of Israel. He can conjure ways to blame Palestinian rejectionism not on the Palestinians themselves, but on Israel. The odds of Obama changing course now? Probably between slim and none.