The Obama administration is spending its waning days in the White House antagonizing its closest Middle East ally. First, there was the U.S.'s recent decision to forego vetoing a U.N. resolution that disclaims Israel's rights to the territory it won in the 1967 war, including Judaism's holiest site. Then, there was John Kerry's speech denouncing Israel's settlement activity.
It's difficult to read these decisions as anything but an expression of spite.
Syria is on fire. Iraq is on fire. Yemen is on fire. Iran is brazenly flouting its nuclear deal. Russia, a geopolitical antagonist, has emerged as a major power-broker in the region. It is making friends with Turkey, formally a U.S. ally but one that is drifting every day. Sunni Gulf states are, as always under the Obama administration, incandescent. And he wants to pick a fight over Israeli settlements? Really?
The two-state solution is dead. That this may be a deplorable fact does not make it any less of a fact. There is no one to make a state with. Gaza is in the control of Hamas. In the West Bank, the Palestinian leader Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and his Fatah party are completely delegitimized and only continue to exist because they are propped up by the West. Yes, Israel has grown weary of the peace process, but not for incomprehensible reasons. In 2001, at the Taba Summit, Israel offered former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat virtually everything the Palestinians could dream of, and in response got the Second Intifada. In 2005, Israeli general Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza, and what Israel got in response were rocket attacks. Anybody who doesn't draw a paycheck from pretending that the two-state solution is alive recognizes that the two-state solution is in fact dead.
While John Kerry's recent temper tantrum is the result of his and Obama's evident frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's character and decisions, the Obama administration's own stance toward settlements has been foolish and reckless. As Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, ably points out, Obama's decision to make a total settlement freeze a precondition of final status negotiations was unprecedented and self-defeating. "Settlements" include outposts deep into the West Bank, as well as leafy Jerusalem suburbs that would likely be part of Israel in any final settlement. A freeze makes no sense, except if one is just interested in bashing Israel.
What's more, Obama demanded a stop to even so-called "natural growth" in settlements, meaning that, for example, any new birth would have to be "compensated" by a death or someone leaving, a position Israel found simply unacceptable. Not even the Palestinians demanded such a strict precondition to talks; Abbas had to resentfully line up with Obama's position, so Obama managed to alienate even the Palestinians as well as the Israelis with his so-called toughness on Israel, in yet another show of poor statesmanship.
The whole premise of Kerry's recent speech was disconnected from reality. The idea that settlements are the major obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a very popular talking point on the left and in European capitals, but it doesn't comport with the facts on the ground. As noted, settlements mostly comprise either calm suburbia that would likely be part of Israel in any final settlement anyway, or outposts that Israel would be glad to jettison in exchange for peace. Since 1978 and the Camp David Accords, whereby Israel gave up on the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace with Egypt, Israel has shown it is willing to give up land for a credible peace offer. But the only two players on the Palestinian side are Hamas, which is a foreign terrorist group, and Fatah, which is unpopular and illegitimate. Therefore, there is simply no credible stakeholder with which Israel can make peace.
When we were treated to Obama's navel-gazing self-flattery on his inaction in Syria, I said that the biggest problem with Obama's foreign policy seems to be his relationship with himself. Diplomacy brings out the worst in him. Obama and Netanyahu have long had a rocky relationship. These recent moves from the Obama administration, which have no political or policy logic, seem like a spiteful, flailing, final punch. This isn't just pointless. It's immoral.