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What Obama is missing in his policy on Israel

ERIELLE R. RESHEF Published: August 30, 2009
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On my run along the Tel Aviv boardwalk, I pass the Dolphinarium, a former disco now decaying and vacant. In 2001, a Hamas suicide bomber detonated there, killing 21 teenagers. A memorial states, "We’ll never stop dancing.” As I continue, I catch a glimpse of the back of the building, now converted into a chic seaside nightclub. Israelis keep dancing, but are constantly reminded that the perverse accomplishment of the Second Intifada was death of innocents with no improvement in the Palestinian predicament. This intifada followed the Bill Clinton-brokered Camp David summit of 2000.

The view from Tel Aviv is unlike that from Washington. Several misconceptions have permeated American foreign policy in the Middle East. First, that applying pressure on Israel will placate its adversaries enough to bring them to the negotiating table. Second, that an Israeli settlement-freeze is the key to unlocking peace in the region. Third, that an American-imposed agreement will take hold. Fourth, that there is a Palestinian government capable of striking and implementing a peace deal on behalf of all Palestinians.

Historical due diligence clearly shows that pressure on Israel will only yield Israeli resistance to negotiations and will embolden Arab opponents of a peaceful solution. The Obama administration’s preoccupation with a settlement freeze legitimizes further Arab finger pointing and is antithetical to progress. As evidenced in Sinai, Israel has shown willingness to uproot settlements when there is hope for a lasting peace. An enduring American-brokered peace agreement must involve two willing and capable parties, as were Egypt and Israel in 1979.

Though Fatah shows signs of attempted restructuring, its latest conference in Bethlehem highlighted deep inner divisions and an eternal deadlock with Hamas. The Palestinians have perpetually failed to demonstrate the ability to unite and self-govern. Preponderant corruption, tribalism and internal strife have preoccupied and jaded Palestinian society. Sadly, there is no unified or competent partner for negotiations in the West Bank or in Gaza.