Obama Brings Curtain Down on Mideast Peace Process

With the departure of the American babysitter, both the Israelis and Palestinians will have to deal with the bleak reality on their own.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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President Barack Obama as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., April 2, 2014.
President Barack Obama as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., April 2, 2014.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama started bringing down the curtain on the American peace initiative spearheaded by his secretary of state, John Kerry, since last March. Obama did not formally wave the white flag, but his statements to the press make it clear that he thinks that currently, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are not partners for peace.

Obama's statements were neither planned nor orchestrated in advance. He was asked a question, and he answered honestly and directly that despite a year of supreme efforts by the American administration, both Netanyahu and Abbas were unwilling to show leadership. In Obama's opinion, both figures, motivated by political survival, don't want to make decisions which will begin to untie the Gordian knot called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The American president termed the new American policy toward the peace process as a "pause." John Kerry called it a "transition to a holding period." In simple English, the two gave the signal over the weekend for the American retreat from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Various officials in Washington are pressing Obama and Kerry to enter the "pause" only after the administration tables its principles for the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's core issues, including the issues of refugees and of Jerusalem. Kerry is toying with the idea, but Obama has no appetite for another adventure which will surely run into the brick wall of Netanyahu, Abbas and Co.

The American withdrawal will not happen in one day. Administration spokespeople will continue to stress at every opportunity that they are not giving up and not forsaking the Israelis and the Palestinians. But in reality, over the next six months the U.S. will "turn down the volume" vis-à-vis any attempt to renew negotiations.

No one will be surprised if sooner or later U.S. envoy Martin Indyk – who has become even more frustrated than his predecessor, George Mitchell – announces his resignation and returns to his previous job at the Brookings Institute in Washington. A veteran diplomat, Indyk was called to duty once more to promote a peace process, not to engage in maintenance aimed solely at preventing an escalation and violent flare-up between Israel and the Palestinians.

If Obama does indeed put his statement from Friday into practice and begins a U.S. withdrawal from the peace process – it would be a welcome move. Without the appearance of a peace process and with the departure of the American babysitter, both the Israelis and Palestinians will have to deal themselves with the bleak reality.

For the Palestinians, the implications will be a steep deterioration in economy and security. For the Israelis, the repercussions will include a worsening international isolation, increased calls for boycotts and even sanctions by the European Union and other bodies against the settlement enterprise. Tragically, it seems both sides need a crisis in order to get truly motivated to move forward.

In the coming days, Netanyahu will most likely continue his propaganda assault on Abbas and the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement. He has already taken over the Sunday television shows on American networks, and he probably won't stop there. In two weeks, Netanyahu will embark on a five-day trip to Japan. The 12-hour flight, the idyllic scenery and the imperial hospitality will surely allow him to forget about the everyday trials. But Netanyahu would be wise to visit the quiet Shinto shrine in Tokyo, have a cup of sake and start thinking seriously about plan B.

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