It seems that when the time comes to write the history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, U.S. President Barack Obama will go down as the great spoiler. He never seems to miss an opportunity to push the process into a dead end.
He has done so again with his declaration that Israel should return to the "1967 lines" in any peace agreement with the Palestinians. He seems oblivious to the fact that the present fluid state of affairs in the Arab world, clouded by uncertainty regarding future developments among Israel's next-door neighbors, is hardly a propitious moment for risk taking by Israel. And he seems to ignore the coalition that has recently been formed between Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in effect removing any semblance of a Palestinian partner for negotiations with Israel at this time. Nevertheless, he urges Israel to agree to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines with Jordan.
These lines, as he surely must know, run about 10 kilometers east of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and right through the heart of Jerusalem, Israel's capital.
It started two years ago, when Obama in Cairo called for a settlement freeze beyond the 1949 armistice lines, making it clear that by that he also meant the cessation of building in parts of east, north and south Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan after Israel's War of Independence. As should have been expected, the Palestinian negotiators could not be less Palestinian than the president of the United States.
So the freeze on construction became their precondition for the resumption of negotiations with Israel, and that was the end of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It seemed for a while that Obama understood that he had made a mistake, forcing the Palestinian negotiators into an untenable position.
He retreated to calling for a temporary settlement freeze, but the Palestinians had already dug in their heels on his previous position, and he finally dropped the whole matter. By then he had already set back the peace process substantially.
Now he is calling on Israel to withdraw to the "1967 lines" and has pushed the Palestinians another step away from the peace process. This one is a giant step, and the damage is going to take a long time to repair. If and when Palestinian negotiators reappear, Israeli agreement to withdrawal to the "1967 lines" as spelled out by the president of the United States, will be their precondition for the start of negotiations. They now cannot possibly accept anything less than that. And that is a demand that Israel cannot accept. So here is another deadlock, made in Washington.
In baseball the batter is out after three strikes. Obama at bat on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has already struck out twice. A third chance does not seem on the horizon at the moment. No doubt, his intentions were the best, but the results are greatly disappointing. Rather than advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he has managed to put obstacles in its way.
How did the president's good intentions lead to this impasse? A good part of the blame rests with mistaken advice that he received from "experts" on the Israeli political scene.
They no doubt told him when he came into office that most Israelis object to the settlements that lie beyond the "1967 lines" and that if he made an issue of these settlements he would have the support of most Israelis, and that this would force the Israeli prime minister to accept his demands or else lose his coalition in the Knesset.
It turned out to be poor advice. This time the many calls heard in Israel for a withdrawal to the "1967 lines," the demonstrations, the artist's boycott of performances in Ariel, the "tsunami" that the defense minister predicted for this coming September unless Israel came forth with some daring initiatives, all must have convinced him or his advisers that his call for an Israeli retreat to the "1967 lines" would be an offer that the Israeli prime minister would have to accept if he did not want his government to fall. Wrong again.
The Israeli "peace camp," advisers in Washington who believed that not only do they know what is good for Israel but that they also understand the Israeli political scene better than Netanyahu, have led Obama in the wrong direction.
They ended up pushing the peace they are seeking beyond the horizon.