One of Obama's central demands of the Palestinians in his Middle East speech, and in his speech to AIPAC, was that a unity government formed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must, as a precondition, recognize Israel's right to exist within secure borders before Israel can be expected to negotiate a peace accord.
It was one of many demands made upon the Palestinians, demands that – unlike Netanyahu and his boisterous cage-rattling – were absorbed quietly, without public complaint, by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Hamas, in contrast, slammed Obama's demand. Which makes what follows a potentially remarkable development.)
Today, we learn that Abbas is now pushing hard to form a unity government of technocrats that will explicitly adhere the the Quartet demands, one of which being the explicit recognition of Israel.
Not impressed? Let me explain why you should be.
Sources for Haaretz in Israel are indicating that Abbas plans to form a government, with Hamas representatives, that will accept American demands. And sources also indicate that Hamas, despite its virulent views (such as calling for the destruction of the Jewish state) is going to, for the first time, have representatives that go along with acceding to American demands. Namely: recognition of Israel's right to exist.
The profundity of this, if it indeed occurs, cannot be overstated.
A week ago, President Obama made clear that the United States would not support the Palestinians' effort to unilaterally declare statehood in September, and called upon Abbas to make clear his unity government's intention to recognize Israel. Days later, it appears that Abbas plans to do just that. And while Abbas is being motivated by more than just Obama's words (he has the UN to consider), and while forming a unity government has been an Abbas goal for several years, the reality is this: Obama has made an impression. Is he responsible for what is occurring? Of course not. Is his finger imprinted in what is occurring, despite arriving later on the scene that some people would have liked? Yes.
So, who is the statesman, I ask, who is having a more profound impact on shaping Israel and Palestine's future? Obama or Netanyahu?
You know the answer.
What is happening right now is playing out exactly as Netanyahu hoped it would not, and exactly how the Palestinians and the White House would like. If the Palestinians indeed form a unity government that recognizes Israel, and Netanyahu does not make a good faith effort to return to the bargaining table according to the Quartet's demands (and his Congress speech showed he would not), then this is what will likely follow:
1. The Palestinians will be able to say, "Look, we tried. We did what we had to, we got Hamas to recognize the need to negotiate with Israel, to recognize Israel as legitimate, and see where it got us? Our only choice now is the United Nations."
2. Obama and the administration, which will publicly reject the Palestinians' United Nations declaration of statehood – a declaration that will be approved – will, in the aftermath, say, "Look, we opposed this. But it is a matter now that is broadly recognized internationally, and must be acknowledged. A path must be found." [Updated Note: while the U.S. will veto such a declaration in the Security Council, the U.S. cannot veto the declaration in the General Assembly, where it will likely pass and gain international recognition and serve as a recommendation to member states. I had long thought that the GA has the ability to convene emergency sessions and pass legally-binding resolutions when the Security Council fails to act, but I am now reviewing this, and would like to refer readers to mll's comment as I do.]
This stage is being set for both the Palestinians to declare statehood and for the Obama administration to circumvent Netanyahu's obstructionism. All the while not going toe-to-toe with America's conservative Israel lobby.
Obama and the Palestinians are about to box Netanyahu in a corner. It will be his move. For Israel's sake, let us hope that he chooses to keep his word: that he will negotiate with a unity Palestinian government that recognizes Israel.
And who is partially responsible for putting Netanyahu in that corner? Quietly, is is Obama.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 1: a fantastic write up in Salon by Rashid Khalidi takes a very different view on matters. It is a view with which I disagree, but his perspective is immensely valuable. In fact, many of you have commented that you find his argument more compelling. To which I respond: I would never take offense at such a statement, for Khalidi is one of my heroes.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: Reuters has an interesting piece up entitled "Palestinians have no wish to isolate Israel," in which Abbas has some telling quotes. Most significantly, perhaps, is his hope that a UN General Assembly resolution will convince member nations to recognize Palestine as a state. This jibes with what several DK members have said in the comments regarding the GA's role in declaring (vis-a-vis international law) statehood for the Palestinians.
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