The announcement last week that, at the initiative of the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and some of their senior aides are scheduled to meet soon in Jerusalem underscores a striking fact about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It comes after a several months-long virtual vacuum of attention pertaining to the matter, and no one seemed to care.
Israeli and Palestinian officials have not met since low-level talks in Jordan broke off in January after five sessions, and though there were several opportunities for President Obama and other world leaders to focus on the issue, nothing came to pass. After the earlier, relentless full court press on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, this relative non-attention heightens concerns that the prospect of the November presidential election is what’s responsible for this new tone and that a second Obama administration may be less than pleasant for Israel.
Mr. Obama’s seeming non-interest in pressing Israel on negotiations was evident when he met with Mr. Netanyahu in Washington early last month. Iran held center stage and the Palestinian conflict was only perfunctorily mentioned both in the face to face meeting between the two leaders and in the press conference afterward. Nor did President Obama spend much time on the issue in his speech to AIPAC in March. In sharp contrast, the Palestinian question was the center of attention in prior years.
And when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie met with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week in Jerusalem, they talked about a number of issues including the worldwide financial crisis, the Arab Spring, Syria, Iran – but not, according to news reports, about negotiations with the Palestinians. One government official was quoted as saying this was not unusual; the issue, he said, is no longer raised in every meeting with visiting statesmen as it once was.
For their part, the Palestinians have been unsuccessful in their attempts at securing an independent state, and just recently failed to get the International Criminal Court – which only accepts complaints against states filed by other states – to accept a complaint of theirs against Israel related to Operation Cast Lead. To be sure, at a meeting last Sunday with Israeli doves led by Yossie Beilin, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, according to The Jerusalem Post, said that if Israel did not accept his conditions for talks he might return to the UN to once again seek recognition for Palestinian statehood, but one gets the distinct impression that Mr. Abbas’s heart is not nearly as much into this approach as it was several months ago. And, as the Post noted, such a tactic “seems unlikely, if only because Obama – who worked hard to prevent the notion from gaining any traction in 2011 – is likely to work even harder to oppose it in September 2012 [when the UN reconvenes], just a few weeks before the November U.S. elections.”
Even the recent, much ballyhooed resolution by the UN Human Rights Council calling for a “fact-finding mission” to investigate the impact of the Jewish settlement movement on Palestinian human rights has fizzled, as did the so-called Global March on Jerusalem in which Palestinians and other Arabs were urged to march on the Israeli capital, and which drew few marchers and scant international attention.
Plainly, the Obama administration’s lack of interest in moving the Palestinian issue forward has had a ripple effect worldwide. Yet it is inconceivable that the president and all those who were so bent on negotiations would have suddenly lost interest as a matter of principle. Rather, it is likely that the upcoming U.S. election is driving events, with everyone following the lead of an anxious president – a president who is putting negotiations on the back burner until he no longer has to go before the voters. As we’ve noted in the past, President Obama, despite declaring his “rock solid” commitment to Israel’s security, says nothing about its retention of population centers in the West Bank. And even that stated commitment to Israel’s security is hardly written in stone.