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April 26, 2015 / 7 Iyar, 5775
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The Next Four Years

By any measure, our newly reelected president has a great number of issues that will compete for his attention and among which he will have to prioritize. During the presidential campaign we repeatedly voiced concern that Mr. Obama might reprise the full-court press treatment he accorded the Israeli-Palestinian conflict early in his first term, and we can only hope he will focus elsewhere.

Indeed, what economists and politicians on both sides of the political divide are calling a looming economic disaster will certainly be an enormous challenge, while on the foreign policy front Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, China, the Arab Spring, and the growth of extremism in regions of the world like North Africa and Pakistan present formidable concerns that cannot be kept on the back burner.

So we suggest that a little benign neglect is in order when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. The lesson of the first Obama term is that deep American involvement in trying to bring about a resolution only serves to complicate matters by encouraging unrealistic Palestinian demands.

Indeed, real peace can come only when the Palestinians recognize that Israel has more than paid its dues for a safe and secure homeland through a series of defensive wars against Arab aggression. Consistent with the normal course of human events, these victories must be reflected in any peace formula arrived at through direct negotiations between the two sides without the involvement of an overarching intermediary with goals and solutions of its own.

Yet there is no shortage of attempts to push the U.S. to reassume a robust role. Some see the current escalation of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza as part of a continuing effort to keep attention focused on the conflict and the need for U.S. involvement. The Palestinian plan to seek observer status at the UN is of a similar nature and also designed to force an early U.S. decision on the course that Mideast policy in a second Obama term will take.

Even before the presidential election, both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his cheerleaders on The New York Times editorial board seemed intent on rejuvenating the peace process and pushing Israel into key concessions.

Thus, Mr. Abbas created quite a stir recently when in an interview on Israeli TV he seemed to renounce a right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees. Asked what he considered to be Palestine, he responded that “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders [sic] with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever…. This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah…. I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts Israel.”

Speaking of his having been born in Safed, he said, “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.” He went on to say that “As long as I am in this office, there will be no armed third intifada. Never…. We don’t want to use terror. We don’t want to use force. We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance. That’s it.”

Mr. Abbas had to have known that all of this would never wash with his colleagues, his constituents and his Hamas rivals – and indeed the uproar that followed his comments forced him to backtrack and clarify that he was only speaking about his personal views. His spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudainah, claimed that the interview was mainly intended to “affect Israeli public opinion.”

But Mr. Abbas seemed to have accomplished what he set out to do. Despite international opposition to his plan to seek non-member observer status for the Palestinian Authority at the UN and Israeli calls for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions, Mr. Abbas has projected himself as a “peace partner” and someone with whom Israel and the United States can work and thus someone to be empowered.

Indeed, Israeli President Shimon Peres quickly responded positively to Mr. Abbas’s initial comments, calling the Palestinian leader “courageous” and “a real partner for peace.”

For its part, The New York Times editorialized on Nov. 4that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians “are unlikely to resume any time soon,” complaining that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has refused to make any serious compromises, and the two-state solution seems to have a diminishing chance of ever happening” and warning that “Israel, the United States, the Palestinians and the entire region will pay a high price if Israel merely settles more firmly into the role of occupier over a growing Palestinian population that is left indefinitely without any hope of statehood and self-rule.”

For both Mr. Abbas and the Times, peace cannot come because weak, peace-seeking Palestinians are at the mercy of an unreasonable, powerful Israel. And that is precisely the narrative they hope President Obama falls for. Whether or not he does will tell us a lot about what to expect from the White House over the next four years.

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