07 June '16..
After the much-anticipated French-sponsored Middle East peace conference ended last Friday with a whimper rather than a bang, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s critics were quick to point out that he shouldn’t be celebrating. They were right in that the event may be just the prelude to more such initiatives whose sole intent was to isolate the Israelis and perhaps set up one more climactic confrontation with the Obama administration this fall after the presidential election. It’s possible that at that point the United States might not oppose a new push for recognition of a Palestinian state without requiring it to first requiring it to make peace with Israel. If so, any satisfaction of the clear failure of the Paris conference would be premature. But as Netanyahu soon proved with a visit to Russia that highlighted Israel’s increasingly warm ties with the Putin regime, his nation is not as isolated as the prime minister’s domestic critics and foreign foes think.
Despite the French boasts about their plans to convene a conference that would establish a framework for Middle East peace without the presence of Israel or the Palestinians, nothing was accomplished in Paris. Nothing, that is, other than the usual bloviating by the French hosts and various Third World foreign ministers that were allowed to make speeches. If critics of the Obama administration can glean any satisfaction from this farce, it is that Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to sit through all of it for the sake of amity with Paris even though he was clearly put out by the futility of the effort and the indignity of having to attend. The platitudes issued at the end of the gathering could have just as easily been put out without the expense and inconvenience of the summit which left the world farther from a resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians than it had been before it started. The only thing it accomplished was to encourage the Palestinians to continue to refuse to negotiate directly with the Israelis because such conferences make them think the international community will bludgeon and isolate the Jewish state into concessions at no cost to themselves.
Moreover, those counseling that danger lies ahead, specifically from an Obama administration that, despite only having seven months left in office, still feels it has a score to settle with Netanyahu. The Palestinians torpedoed every administration Middle East initiative over the past seven and a half years even though each one sought to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction. But the White House continues to rail at the Israelis while largely giving the Palestinians a pass for their ongoing refusal to make peace.
That pattern reasserted itself this week when National Security Advisor Susan Rice addressed the American Jewish Committee and, though promising military aid and saying that Israel wouldn’t be abandoned, also blasted Israeli government policies on settlements. Rice drew an analogy between the presence of Jews in places that are not only part of Jewish history but also decades old, and Palestinian incitement and violence. In this view, the mere act of a Jew living in the West Bank or Jerusalem is morally equivalent to a Palestinian murdering a Jew. Whatever one’s views about the wisdom of the settlements, this is offensive.
Nor does such false moral equivalence come to grips with the fact that the only thing that has prevented the implementation of the two-state solution the U.S. advocates is the fact that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, like his predecessor Yasir Arafat, finds it impossible to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.
Such rhetoric leaves open the possibility of a betrayal of Israel at another peace conference later this year or at the United Nations. That is especially true since Rice’s talk of this being “a time of concern and sometimes of sorrow” for those observing Israel, she is not talking about it being assaulted by Palestinian terror so much as she is mourning yet another failed U.S. effort to manipulate the composition of the Israeli government.
But as much as the hostility of Washington and the growing chorus of critics of the Jewish state in Europe — who are clearly influenced by the rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent — is a cause for deep concern, the situation is not as dire as it might have seemed in Paris. The first piece of evidence was Netanyahu’s warm reception in Moscow today.
While it would be misleading to assume that Netanyahu’s fourth meeting with Vladimir Putin in less than year makes Russia an Israel ally, it is nonetheless clear that Moscow is more interested in its increased security cooperation with the Jewish state than in helping the French or President Obama. The Israelis must be wary of Putin, who is playing a dangerous game with military intervention in Syria. But the visit, along with growing Israeli ties to moderate Arab countries that are disillusioned with and scared by the Obama administration’s appeasement of Iran, are a reminder that the new Middle East that has arisen in the wake of America’s retreats is one in which Jerusalem is not as isolated as its critics might think.
Netanyahu’s statement last week, in which he spoke of being willing to negotiate about the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (a statement that was greeted with silence by the international community and a demand from Abbas that Israel withdraw unconditionally from every inch of the land it won in 1967 including the Old City of Jerusalem), was a bow in the direction of moderate Arabs who no longer see the Jewish state solely as an enemy. Though this alliance of convenience should, like ties with Russia, not be mistaken for a relationship based on common values and trust, it is nevertheless a fact. Saudi Arabia, as well as nations like Jordan and Egypt, understand that they need Israel as a bulwark against the unfolding chaos in Syria and an Iran that has been enriched and empowered by Obama’s nuclear deal.
With growing ties with Moscow and Arab countries that pay lip service to the Palestinian cause but won’t risk their security for it, Israel is not alone nor without options. The next several months will be a perilous time for Israel as the Palestinians seek to take advantage of Obama’s waning influence. They, along with their international cheering section that is indifferent to the influence and power of Hamas and the possibility that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would become a second Gaza, know that the next administration is bound to be more favorable to Israel than its predecessor. At the very least, both a Trump or a Clinton administration will not start out with a grudge against Netanyahu or the mistaken belief that more “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem is a formula for peace as Obama did. The future is uncertain, and no one should underestimate the dangers for Israel. But it is nowhere near as bleak as Netanyahu’s critics claim.
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