There has been a worrisome shift in Israeli commentary on President Obama's efforts to force peace between Israel and Palestine.
A prominent emphasis had focused on the President's naivete, what one called a "childish" assumption that his engagement could bring the parties to positions they had not taken on their own.
Now there is a concern that the president may actually be advancing the prospect of violence.
The possibility comes from only part of a sentence, but it was a presidential sentence that received wide media coverage. Obama said that construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo makes it harder to achieve peace, and embitters the Palestinians in a way that could be dangerous.
It took less than a day for the media to note that a prominent Palestinian--one who was a leader in the 2000 intifada and muted as a possible successor to Mahmoud Abbas-- was urging the launch of popular campaigns to achieve statehood.
Is it too much of a stretch to see "popular campaigns" as code for mass demonstrations, likely to produce violence and the start of another intifada, and to see the Palestinians finding an endorsement for their actions in Barack Obama's mention of Israel's contribution to their dangerous embitterment?
To those who say we should not rest expectations on phrases expressed by an American president and a prominent Palestinian, it is appropriate to take another look at history. Palestinian statements and actions going back to the 1930s indicate a deep seated feeling that they have a monopoly of justice in this bi-national dispute. Moreover, they have gone the route of violence on several occasions. Recent statements by several prominent figures provide some justification for Obama's conclusion that prolonging their lack of satisfaction could produce another round.
Was the President simply expressing his worry? Was he careless in overlooking what his comment could add to existing tinder already smoldering? Could he possibly have intended to provide justification for violence, either by way of punishing Israel for not accepting his dictates about freezing settlements, or as an effort to achieve something that would save him the embarrassment of failure?
The intensity of American concern with micromanaging the city that Israel considers its capital is apparent in reports that the Consul General in Jerusalem (de facto ambassador to Palestine) meets frequently with Abbas and other Palestinians on the subject of where buildings are to be constructed in Jewish neighborhoods and where they are destroyed in Arab neighborhoods for having been constructed illegally. Daniel Rubinstein came to the position of Consul General in September, after a career in the State Department dealing with Arab, Israeli, and other issues. http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov/con_gen.html
I can remember when the State Department was a WASP preserve, and more narrowly the place for those who had degrees from Harvard, Yale or Princeton. When Jews began making an impression on the Foreign Service, they were restricted from any placements in the Middle East other than Cyprus or Turkey. The Arabs did not want Jewish American diplomats in their countries, and the State Department did not want them in Israel. Rubinstein is not the first block buster. There have been Jews serving as American ambassadors to Israel, Jews representing the United States in Arab countries, as well as Henry Kissinger. Rubinstein is one more indication that equal opportunity prevails at the upper reaches of the United States Government. One should applaud, but may also wonder if his appointment is the Administration's way of easing a tough policy on Israel through its Jewish constituency.
Whether the President's statement about dangerous embitterment came by design, clumsiness, or lack of sensitivity, any violence that comes even partly as a result of the President's comments is not likely to end well for the Palestinians. Arab rejection of the United Nations 1947 partition and going to war in 1948, and another effort in 1967 produced major territorial losses. The first intifada that began in 1987 brought on the partial success of the Oslo Accords, but the second intifada that began in 2000 produced the security barrier as well as a considerable destruction in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas' rocketry caused the disaster of Gaza earlier this year, with closures still preventing international aid and construction supplies from rebuilding the damage. If yet another effort to win via bloodshed comes from Palestinian feeling that they have the President's endorsement, the blood of Israelis and Palestinians will be his to explain.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 19, 2009 08:27 PM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science