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Trump’s victory leaves Obama with only one option on Israel-Palestine

When everyone believed Clinton was going to be the next president, Obama was rumored to be considering several last-minute options to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. All that went out the window on Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at the end of a visit to Israel. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at the end of a visit to Israel. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Obama administration is probably trying to figure out how to protect its two signature achievements – Obamacare and the Iranian nuclear deal – for the next two years, when the White House and both chambers of Congress will be under Republican control. But it will also need to revisit other issues, such as a widely discussed final move on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Specifically, the idea of laying out parameters for a final status agreement – either in the form of a major policy speech or via a UN Security Council resolution – might seem out of touch with the new political reality in Washington.

It is extremely difficult to predict what Donald Trump’s actual policies will be – common wisdom is that a weak and poorly informed president depends on the people around and below him – but it’s a pretty safe guess that Trump won’t continue efforts to broker a final agreement on a two-state solution. The GOP removed the very idea of Palestinian statehood from its platform ahead of the elections. Those around Trump have taken positions in favor of West Bank settlements and against previous efforts to push the Israeli government towards a deal with the Palestinians. Others in the president-elect’s circle – probably including Trump himself – have strong isolationist tendencies.

All that should cause the outgoing Obama administration to change its calculations. Much of its thinking on a final push on the peace process was clearly predicated on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. The idea was not that a major policy speech or a UN Security Council resolution on parameters would generate an immediately response on the ground. It might, however, have laid solid groundwork for future negotiations, all while creating options for the next administration that relieved it of the need to spend actual political capital on the issue.

This thinking was problematic to begin with. The last attempt to set parameters, by Bill Clinton during his own lame duck period, did nothing to prevent violent escalations on the ground. The Clinton Parameters had little significance when talks did eventually resume in Annapolis, and the same was true in the most recent negotiations led by Secretary Kerry. Prime Minister Netanyahu simply refused the American terms of reference, and Kerry didn’t insist. The framework that Kerry did end up negotiating wasn’t as far reaching as the original parameters (especially with regards to Jerusalem), and one could argue that locking it in now in the form of a policy speech or Security Council resolution would have actually been a step backwards, not forward.

All that is meaningless now, however. The old peace process is officially toast. The people who led it won’t be part of the next administration. The policies they pursued are the furthest possible from a Trump administration’s agenda — be it isolationist or neo-con/interventionist. A final push on parameters would be a waste of political capital, and might actually cause more harm than good.

That leaves Obama with one play, and one play only – a Security Council resolution against the settlements. In practice, all it would require of the Obama administration would be to not veto a resolution similar to the one it blocked in 2011. Back then, Washington stood alone in opposing a resolution drafted using language the State Department itself used to condemn Israeli settlement activity, and was supported by Israel’s allies like Germany and Great Britain.

Washington justified the 2011 veto with what it said was the need to sustain or maintain the requisite conditions for direct talk between the two parties. But everything has changed since then: the talks collapsed and will not be resumed, and the next administration is expected to support the settlements, perhaps even moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. In Israel, the settlers are sensing a “rare window of opportunity.” They are advancing legislation to legalize outposts build on Palestinian land, and are calling for the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim, the third-largest settlement city in the West Bank. I have actually never seen such excitement among the Israeli Right about a new American administration. Immediately after Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech on Wednesday, senior Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett declared that as a result of Trump’s victory, the two-state era is over.

A new Security Council resolution, however, could help end Washington’s monopoly on the issue and give the international community a new mechanism for containing and confronting Israeli settlement activity. It would signal that there is no vacuum of engagement with the conflict, and that nobody – not even Trump – can give Netanyahu a blank check. It would make the Israeli government think twice before carrying out some of its more far-reaching plans, and thus reduce the potential for violence on the ground.

True, a settlement resolution might not carry the same strong “legacy” component that parameters might have delivered the outgoing administration, but that was a bad idea to begin with. There was never any real hope that Obama could achieve in his final two months in office something that didn’t work over the previous eight years. In any case, everything changed Tuesday. But the administration can still get something done. If a Security Council resolution leads the international community to effectively engage with reality on the ground, it might prove to be more consequential than any other option on the table.

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    COMMENTS

    1. What would make Israel respond positively to a new UNSC resolution? Why didn’t Israel acquiesce by resolutions 242 and all the others? Because there is no bite to the bark. Impotent UN will not act on its resolutions.

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      Don’t count on Obama allowing a UN resolution of this sort to pass without a veto. First of all, it is considered immoral for an outgoing President to carry out a controversial unilateral action in opposition to the incoming President’s view during the transition period. Secondly, Israel has options with which to counter such a resolution which includes the possibility of annexation of Ma’alei Adumim, Gush Etzion (both of which the Israeli Left support having be part of Israel in the wake of a possible agreement with the Palestinians). Thirdly, any such resolution would not have any practical ramifications on the ground yet it would harden Right-wing opinion in Israel which I presume Noam wouldn’t want.

      In any event, I am sure the Palestinian Authority leadership is pleased Trump won because there will be a lot less pressure to participate in negotiations with Israel which they want to avoid because they are under pressure to make concessions which their public will not accept (e.g. giving up the Right of Return of the refugees). They much prefer to carry out unilateral actions in forums like the UN where they can get reams of meaningles anti-Israel resolutions or they can press for ineffectual BDS declarations and claim that they are making “achiements” for their people while they continue to pocket the aid money they receive. Everyone is happy that way.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      Obama will simply sit quietly aside as he waits for his final 2 months to pass. After that, he will start playing golf and giving meaningless speeches that each pay $200,000. Of course, his “accomplishments” – Obamacare, Middle East Peace, giving $150 Billion to Iran and running enormous deficits at home will be rapidly deleted from record by President Trumph.

      A joke President with a negative historical footprint. He will be remembered as a minor footnote in history.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Carmen

      “He will be remembered as a minor footnote in history.”

      Only in your POV Lewis. BTW, history isn’t your strong suit. 🙂

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        It appears that I have offended the Great Leftist Messiah – Obama. He has run more deficits in his last 8 years then the entire history of America from Independence to 2008.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          The shoot-off-the-mouth ignorance of the low brow right wing is striking. How little they really understand. How easily someone like, oh, say, Netanyahu could dupe them. But level of education is after all a critical factor. In an article perceptive of the plight of the working classes ignored by both parties, Eva Illouz explains much that needs explaining about both the left and the right and has this to say about education:

          What pushed working-class America into Trump’s arms
          Eva Illouz
          http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/u-s-election-2016/.premium-1.752487

          “These economic and ideological changes have created a new divide, based less on income per se than on education level…. Sixty-seven percent of the non-educated white electorate voted for Trump. Along with race, education was by far the strongest predictor of a vote for Trump. “Educated” rather than “rich” people have become the target of working-class ire because the former are more likely to hold the values the red states despise…. Trump can pass so easily among the working classes: His ignorance, vulgarity and uninhibited speech mark him as uneducated, and, thus, as “one of us.” Where urban, cosmopolitan, educated America recoiled in disgust from Trump’s abysmal incompetence and ignorance, it was those qualities that bestowed on him a pathos of authenticity among the working classes…. Populism – in Israel and in the U.S. – is made possible by the fact that the educated, left-wing elite does not represent the struggling classes, those whose lives are economically insecure and ideologically close to traditional values. For the struggling classes, the left seems more worried about minorities (“Arab- or Latino-loving left-wingers”) than about the deep insecurities of working-class people. Right-wing populism thrives because once the world of the working-classes has been destroyed by corporate capitalism, it can be reconstructed through the promise that people will enjoy again their lost racial, gender and ethnic privileges. What the right hand destroys, the left hand promises to repair…..”

          Reply to Comment
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