The Obama Administration, the Peace Process and 2012
Sec. Clinton Stops by Israel
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on a whirlwind trip to Israel on Monday to talk with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about reviving the peace process. Secretary Clinton participated in “a 14-hour marathon of meetings” around Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority Prime Mister Salam Fayyad, Quartet Representative Tony Blair, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Secretary Clinton told reporters that although United States will help “support and environment for talks….it’s up to the parties to do the hard work for peace.” She continued saying, “peace won’t wait and the responsibility falls on all of us to keep pressing forward.”
Some analysts saw the trip as a way for President Barack Obama to score points that he will need to win a second term. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to visit Israel soon to court the Jewish vote and solidify evangelical support. Eytan Gilboa said to The New York Times about Secretary Clinton’s visit, “Why now? The answer is elections. Hillary Clinton is very popular in Israel. There were talks about Obama coming here — I think he did very well to avoid a visit by himself. It was a great idea to send her to do some politicking for him.”
Looking Back at Obama’s Peace Process Efforts
When Obama took office in 2009, there were high hopes that he would revamp the American role in the peace. While Obama’s historic Cairo speech in 2009 was intended to signal a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the greater Arab world, Obama told a group of Jewish leaders in June 2012 that his policies are not “evenhanded.” He reportedly told the assembled group, “We are being decidedly more attentive to Israel’s security needs.”
What went wrong? With six months left in Obama’s term and the peace process as stagnate as ever, there are many different fingers pointing in many difference directions when it comes to answering that question. The Washington Post published an extensive article on Sunday (July 15) that goes behind the scenes in the Obama Administration and tries to explain where the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict went wrong. Journalist Scott Wilson reveals interpersonal conflicts and domestic politics on all sides that hampered the peace process, creating the stagnate situation seen today.
According to Wilson, the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an uphill battle from the beginning. On the campaign trail, Obama told supporters, “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel…that can’t be a measure of our friendship.” Less than three months after Obama took office, Netanyahu, from the Likud party, became prime minister of Israel.
Other obstacles included a rivalry between Middle East envoy George Mitchell and National Security Council adviser Denis Ross over influence and responsibilities, and the Fatah-Hamas division facing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel Plays Role in 2012 Elections
Signs now indicate that Obama will not spend any additional political capital in an election year on the politically perilous peace process issue. Aaron David Miller writes, “For now…the peace process will be kicked down the road. Washington wants no quarrel before November elections.”
Support for Israel is emerging as a contentious issue this year. Mitt Romney’s website says his plan, if elected president, will “differ sharply from President Obama’s” because Obama is “pressuring Israel without extracting any price from the Palestinians.” Romney’s upcoming visit will serve to bolster his foreign policy credentials and help him court Jewish and evangelical voters. Although Gallop found Jewish support for Obama to be at around 74 percent in 2008, their recent polls indicate that number has dropped by ten points. Gallop explains the importance of the findings by saying, “with Romney and Obama so closely matched thus far, every additional bit of support they can muster among these groups could be valuable to their winning the election.”
Since there are few highlights from the peace process to tout, Obama is combatting the criticism by underscoring his commitment to Israel’s security. In March he told the assembled crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “my administration's commitment to Israel's security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year.”
It remains to be seen if a second term will bring renewed efforts. In an interview on Sunday with an ABC affiliate, Obama told the reporter that he failed at moving the peace process forward, saying, “It's something we focused on very early. But the truth of the matter is, that the parties, they've got to want it as well.” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser echoed that sentiment, telling The Washington Post that, “The president’s view now is that this is about the Israelis and the Palestinians…These really are their choices to make.”
- The Kadima party officially left Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition after just 70 days over the issue of universal military service requirements. Speculation over the timing of new elections has already begun but most analysts say Netanyahu’s position is secure.
- Director of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch project Hagit Ofran found her apartment building covered in graffiti on Monday with messages such as “Hagit, you’re dead.” This is the third time her residence has been tagged with hate messages.
- After a five-year ban, 40 Gazans visited their family members held in Israeli prisons. Israel agreed to resume the visits as part of a deal to end the month long hunger strike taken up by 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in May. An Israeli prison spokeswoman said the visits would become weekly.
- Despite the recommendations of Israeli academics, university presidents and the Council of Higher Education, Israeli officials decided to upgrade a college inside the West Bank settlement of Ariel and give it full university status. The move has raised academics’ fears of academic boycotts and reduced international funding for Israeli universities. Palestinians call it “an obstacle to peace” and point out that West Bank students cannot study there and many Gazans cannot travel to the West Bank to attend Palestinian run universities.