What makes a conspiracy isn’t how fantastic it is, but how real. After a poorly timed settlement announcement scuttled one attempt at indirect talks, US envoy George Mitchell finally resumed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in May. The White House then spent four months dragging PA President Mahmoud Abbas to direct negotiations instead of fostering the conditions for them to thrive. Israel got its way in the end: negotiations without preconditions.
But was it after more?
With Israel and America actively seeking Abbas’s decline, the question arises of whether they intentionally provoked Hamas in order to gain further advantages in direct negotiations. This may have been the plan from the beginning, and it’s working if so. Obstacles only days ago, America and Israel are now upping their demands by blaming the threat towards peace on Hamas, which is playing straight into their hands by lashing out on Israeli settlers.
"The message should go out to Hamas and everybody else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us from not only ensuring a secure Israel but also securing a longer lasting peace in which people throughout the region can take a different course," President Barack Obama told reporters after Hamas committed a second attack on a West Bank settlement.
Conspiracy or not, the reality runs deep. That Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in the same room is being billed as progress in itself, and they’ve resorted to corny statements to bridge the awkwardness. "We're making progress," Obama said after escorting Abbas to his limousine following the Oval Office summit. Netanyahu declared, "We are not looking for excuses to stop the negotiations,” and told Abbas, who he’s back-stabbed numerous times, “you are my partner in peace.”
The fix appears on. Abbas, though he claimed a peace agreement was possible within one year, didn’t look so enthusiastic in press photos (there were many). And why would he? Washington managed to avoid a premature settlement ultimatum by rolling a freeze into the first month of direct talks, but Obama cannot run from the inevitable. Direct talks will end if Netanyahu’s “freeze” expires on September 26th. West Bank settlers have threatened to defy Netanyahu’s order if he gave in, and have even started building in light of Hamas’s attacks.
Having warned that talks would collapse without a moratorium, Abbas mustn’t have been pleased when Netanyahu reportedly told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, "It is impossible to take the issue of settlements in the West Bank, which is an issue for the permanent agreement and deal with it separately at the beginning of the direct talks.”
To no surprise, there will be no settlement freeze so long as Netanyahu can help it. Settlements will only stop when and if a comprehensive peace agreement is reached, which could be in a year or five years. Palestinians have long feared this scam and Abbas has Arab League backing to flash the emergency red light. Hamas looks like the biggest obstacle, but it may just make the loudest noise.
Outside of Hamas’s exclusion from negotiations, the US position towards Israel and Palestine suffers potentially fatal flaws. Obama has disintegrated Abbas’s credibility in the West Bank by protecting Netanyahu’s “no preconditions” stance, now revealed as a ploy to continue settlement approval and building throughout direct talks. A rational approach would have empowered Abbas among his own people so that he may negotiate in confidence.
But neither Israel nor America wish for an equal peace - rather peace on their terms.
Obama and other US officials will continue to spin their rhetoric about a Palestinian state over the coming weeks, but the Palestinians will end up with the shortest stick unless drastic changes are made US policy. Inequality will either block an agreement in the first place or obstruct one from being implemented.
And while US officials vigorously crown their highest foreign policy “achievement” to date, private activity may not match the public intensity. Like Iraq, Obama’s hands-off coercion of the Palestinians into an unprepared environment gives off the impression of “moving on.” Advancing the peace process won’t improve America’s image in the Middle East if negotiations break down.
Robert Danin, a former U.S. official who now serves as an emissary to the Middle East on behalf of the Quartet, said Washington was eager to get direct talks started before the settlement freeze expires and the UN Security Council convenes. But direct talks also, "help defuse criticism, help put this issue on the side, move on to other issues, and also gives the administration enhanced credibility because it says this is an issue that's identified as a national priority.”
America has given Israel all the help it can. Obama must apply a more equal and attentive policy towards the Palestinians, or end up the main obstacle to brokering a two-state solution.