Going nowhere in increments

Every recent American administration has struggled in its efforts to bring peace to the Middle East for the simple reason that there was no real peace to be had. But has any administration gotten off to as pitiful a start as President Obama’s?
Obama came out of the box demanding that Israel engage in no construction in its established settlements and build no apartments in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government rejected these ridiculous demands, and Obama lost credibility not just with the right-of-center government, but with the Israeli people.
Obama has been just about as unsuccessful on the other side of the divide. As John notes below, the Palestinians’ “moderate” faction, Fatah, is set to reaffirm its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Nor is Obama having much success persuading Arab states to offer even small indicia of “normalized” relations, despite what the Washington Post describes as the president’s personal letters to Arab leaders making the case for confidence-building measures. In fact, the Post reports that the Saudi foreign minister has “rebuffed [the administration’s] efforts to push Riyadh to take confidence-building steps toward Israel.” The Saudis instead are saying that Obama’s “incrementalism” will not achieve peace. It would be futile, then, for Israel to freeze its settlements, an “incremental” measure at best.
It’s never been clear to me that the Saudis desire an Israeli-Palestinian settlment. But their current position is reasonable. The Saudis presented the plan they want back in 2002 — Israel gets full diplomatic recognition in exchange for withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including giving up East Jerusalem. If Israel isn’t prepared to accept this — and it is not — then there’s no point in making small concessions in the name of a doomed peace process.


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