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Opinion: Columnists

The false urgency of the Israeli-Palestinian 'peace process'

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Opinion,Columnists,Jed Babbin,Barack Obama,John Kerry,Israel,Palestinians,Magazine

Almost lost in the avalanche of news about Russia's aggression in the Ukraine is that from President Obama's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. But that meeting may prove to have been more important.

The events leading up to the meeting were crafted by Obama to give a sense of urgency to the “peace process” that has failed - again and again - to deliver peace between Israel, neighboring Arab nations and the Palestinians. It is an urgency Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry keep talking about but doesn't really exist.

Obama hasn’t always put the burden on others to cloud the “peace process” with a false sense of urgency, but that has been his preference. Asked in 2011 what Israel needed to do in pursuit of peace, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "Just get to the damn table."

In June, Kerry told the American Jewish Committee that time was running out on the peace process and that there may not be another chance. And just last month, in meetings with Iranian nuclear negotiators in Tehran, Kerry warned Israel of the threat of international boycott if peace wasn’t reached with the Palestinians.

Think of that for a moment. Meeting with the Iranians, who have vowed to wipe Israel off the map, the U.S. secretary of state scolds Israel and expresses sympathy for the boycott of Israel’s economy.

President Obama didn't call Kerry on the carpet for either that statement or the inappropriate venue. In fact, in a recent interview with Bloomberg View, the president seemed to agree with Kerry, saying that, “There comes a point where you can't manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices.”

What's the rush? If you look at the “peace process” track record, it's hard to find. In 2000 at Camp David, Bill Clinton wanted to rush things along. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered essentially the same deal that Obama wants now - a return to Israel's 1967 borders with land swaps.

That fell apart when Palestinian chieftain Yasser Arafat abruptly left the negotiations and never asked to resume them. In 2005, Ariel Sharon decided to pull back from Gaza and the West Bank – without land swaps – and the Palestinians launched rocket and missile attacks on Israel. In 2008, Ehud Olmert presented Arafat with a map proposing a Palestinian state on nearly 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. Again, Arafat left to consult with his advisers and never came back.

Now Obama is again pushing the same deal, cloaking it in an urgency that isn't there, because there is no flexibility whatsoever in the Palestinians' position, no compromise they will accept. Nothing has changed since Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told Egyptian television in 2011, “I've said it before and I'll say it again. I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a ‘Jewish state'.”

Monday’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting reflected the lack of urgency. At the meeting Obama reportedly told Netanyahu he would urge Abbas to “make tough decisions,” when the two meet later this month. He also said he would urge Abbas to accept a “framework” for peace that Kerry is developing and to extend the deadline for negotiations to the end of this year.

There is an urgency to Israel’s part in the “peace process,” but for reasons Obama and Kerry don't comprehend.

First is Iran's nuclear weapons program. Intentionally or not, Obama has tied Israel's hands with an interim deal to freeze Iran's nuclear program. While that agreement is in effect, regardless the facts that Iran cannot be trusted and that the agreement does little but give them more time to develop weapons, Israel cannot act. Any attack on Iran will be seen as a betrayal of America despite America's error.

Second, the Palestinians' desire for peace was demonstrated again Wednesday when the Israeli navy seized the Panamanian-flagged ship “Klos-C” carrying Syrian M-302 missiles intended for terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The M-302 missiles, reportedly manufactured in Syria and shipped to Gaza via Iran, have a range of about 160 kilometers, which means they can reach almost all of Israel.

The real urgency is in the need for America to stop scolding Israel and reaffirm that it's our most important ally in the Middle East. Obama should stop putting that in doubt.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research.
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Jed Babbin

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The Washington Examiner