Obamas November Surprise
By Gregg Roman
September 26, 2016
There is growing speculation that
President Obama will spring a diplomatic surprise on Israel during the
interregnum between the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 and his departure
from office in January.
Some say the surprise will be a
speech laying down parameters for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian
dispute or some type of formal censure of Israeli settlements in the West Bank,
but the scenario generating most discussion is a decision to support, or perhaps
not to veto, a UN Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.
This would be a bombshell.
Washington's long-stated policy is that a Palestinian state should be
established only through an agreement negotiated directly between the two sides.
In practice, this would require that Palestinian leaders agreed to recognize
Israel as a Jewish state and concede the so-called "right of return"
for refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants to areas within Israel's
borders, a prospect which would mean the demographic destruction of Israel.
For decades, Palestinian leaders
it clear they won't do this: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't
mince words, telling
a gathering of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo in November 2014, "We will
never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel." Efforts to win
recognition of Palestinian statehood by foreign governments and multilateral
institutions are designed to skirt this precondition for statehood.
Any state that comes into
existence without Palestinian leaders formally recognizing Israel will be a
brutal, unstable train wreck, with areas under its jurisdiction likely to remain
a hotbed of terrorism. On top of whatever existing factors are producing the
endemic corruption and autocracy of the Abbas regime (not to mention the Hamas
regime in Gaza), unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state will vindicate
radicals who have been saying all along that there's no need to compromise.
On the other hand, official
Palestinian acknowledgement once and for all that Israel is not just here to
stay, but has a right to stay, would deprive Palestinian leaders of time-honored
tools for manipulating their constituents appealing to and inflaming their
baser anti-Jewish prejudices, promising them salvation if they'll only shut up
'til the Zionists are defeated, and so forth. Instead, they will have to do
things like govern well and create jobs to win public support.
Previous American administrations
have understood that recognizing Palestinian statehood before Abbas and company
allow Palestinian society to undergo this transformation would be the height of
irresponsibility. This is why American veto power has consistently blocked
efforts to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state by way of the UN Security
Notwithstanding his apparent pro-Palestinian
sympathies and affiliations prior to running for the Senate and later the
White House, President Obama initially maintained this policy. The expressed
threat of an American veto foiled Abbas' 2011 bid to win UN member-state status
for "Palestine." He settled for recognition of non-member-state status
by the General Assembly in 2012.
As moves by the PA to bring the
issue of statehood to the UN picked up steam last year, however, it appeared to
walk back this commitment. While U.S officials privately maintained there was
"no change," Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha
Power refused despite the urging
of Senate Minority Leader Harry
Reid to state publicly that the U.S. would use its veto to stop a
resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.
The conventional wisdom was that
Obama's refusal to make such a public declaration was intended to exert pressure
on Netanyahu to tone down his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, and later to
punish him for it or hold it out to secure concessions. As his presidency enters
its final months, it's clear something even more nefarious is at work.
President Obama's failure to
clarify his administration's position has greatly damaged prospects for
Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even if it is Obama's intention to veto any
resolution on Palestinian statehood that comes up at the UN, his refusal to
publicly state this or, put differently, his determination to go on the
record for the history books not saying it has fueled perceptions among
Palestinians and European governments facing pressures of their own that
American will is softening.
It is imperative that Congress use
the tools at its disposal to make this unwise path as difficult as possible for
the Obama administration.
Ultimately, a one-sided UN
declaration such as this serves only to postpone by a long shot the day when
Palestinian leaders accept Israel as it is the homeland of the Jewish people
and allow their subjects to enjoy the lasting peace and prosperity they and
their neighbors deserve.