Middle East peace process R.I.P.

Obama fails in Middle East

The announcement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he will not run for reelection is the exclamation point on the utter collapse of the Obama adminstration’s Middle East policy. Launched to great expectations — the appointment of George Mitchell, Obama’s Cairo declaration that the plight of the Palestinians is intolerable — it is now in complete disarray. It is, without doubt, the first major defeat for Obama’s hope-and-change foreign policy.

Here’s how it unraveled. First, Obama began a test of strength with Israel over that country’s policy of illegal settlements, an expansion of its occupation of the West Bank driven by extremist, right-wing settlers who are fanatical, Bible-believing cultists who think that Israel has some God-given right to that territory. The settler-kooks — indeed, one of their past leaders was named Rabbi Kook — are supported by ultra-hardliners in Israel’s security establishment, who see the West Bank as strategic depth in Israel’s defense posture. What happened after Obama told Israel it had to stop settlements? Nothing. Score: Netanyahu 1, Obama 0. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — In his somewhat hagiographic report on Clinton’s tour of the region, Joe Klein suggests that the Secretary of State’s “recklessness” in Jerusalem might coincide with her emergence as a single strong voice on foreign policy as the administration’s diplomatic efforts are increasingly in disarray.

“In the course of the trip, there were the first stray wisps of a hint that Clinton wanted to begin asserting her independence, as the Administration, facing roadblocks across the world, struggled for a firmer foreign policy tone after an opening nine months that might be called the Rodney King — ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ — phase,” Klein wrote.

Another way of putting this might be to say that in an administration that lacks leadership, there are likely to be an increasing number of freelancers as a power vacuum creates openings for political opportunists. The current trend is heading from bad to worse.

In a warning to Obama, Abbas quits election

“It’s time for you to find another donkey.” With those words, according to Palestinian sources, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas told the Palestine Liberation Organziation (PLO) executive committee that he would not seek re-election in January. The 74-year-old leader, on whom U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East are heavily dependent, reiterated that message later on Thursday in a televised address from his home in Ramallah. “This decision does not at all amount to bargaining or political maneuvering. While I appreciate the views expressed by brothers [in the PLO, who rejected his move], I hope they will understand my wish.”

The prime audience for Abbas’ statement, of course, was not the PLO leadership but the Obama Administration. According to Palestinian sources who attended the meeting, Abbas told his PLO comrades that the U.S. had “cheated” him by retreating from its insistence that Israel end settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. “We welcomed it, and were optimistic when President Obama announced the need for a complete halt to settlements, including natural growth,” Abbas said. “We were surprised by his support for the Israeli position.” [continued…]

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