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Obama’s Failure Set Stage for Trump’s Unilateral Israel Policy

The move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establish an embassy there is the most consequential American diplomatic action in the the Israeli-Arab conflict since the Truman administration’s recognition of the fledgling Israeli state seven decades ago. It ranks up there with the Balfour Declaration, which, in 1917, offered the Zionist movement, then a small minority in Palestine, critical imperial support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Violent confrontations, notably in Gaza, marked the festive opening of the embassy on May 14. Protesting the U.S. decision is certainly within the power of its many and varied opponents, the burden of which is already being counted in the ranks of those killed and injured in Gaza this week [1]. But reversing the American fait accompli, which sets the United States and Israel against the international consensus on Jerusalem, is impossible.

Trump’s December 6, 2017 declaration represents a victory for Israel’s vision and the strategy devised for its realization. Like the earlier milestones in Israel’s history, the U.S. action has dramatically altered and, at the same time, defined the diplomatic landscape, not only in regard to Jerusalem, but more broadly the parameters of the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab, and U.S.-Arab relationships.

Trump’s personal and political interest in making such a declaration is well documented. But the critical factor that shaped the landscape on which the decision was taken was created by the Obama administration, which, for the first time since 1967, bequeathed to Trump a diplomatic wasteland lacking in any consensual diplomatic process, let alone agreement on the substantive issues contested by the parties. Obama’s sorry legacy—no serious or direct talks, no agreed upon objective, no agreed upon framework for diplomatic engagement on Jerusalem or indeed on any of the basket of “final status” issues that had engaged the parties for decades—ripped open an inviting vacuum for Trump’s disruptive brand of diplomacy.

This new era confers a premium on Trump’s support for and encouragement of unilateral Israeli moves. It establishes Washington as overtly sabotaging an international consensus that, however inadequate, had been forged over many decades. And it blows a debilitating hole in the moribund Arab Peace Initiative, which proposed recognition of Palestinian statehood as a price for diplomatic recognition. It also exposes an Arab and Palestinian incapacity to do more than proclaim support for the consensus that the U.S. has now shattered.

Palestinians will find no comfort in the boilerplate condemnations heard around the world, nor will they be assuaged by Washington’s vacuous assertion that the Trump declaration on Jerusalem does not prejudge the shape of a diplomatic solution. Balfour, too, promised that Palestinian prospects would not be prejudiced by its support for Zionism, and we all know how that turned out.

At times the Trump administration seems to playing chess with itself, and losing. At an April 30, 2018 press conference in Amman, newly minted secretary of state Mike Pompeo suggested:

When the president announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he also announced that the United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders, and will support a two-state solution if the parties agree to it. The specific boundaries of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to negotiation between those parties. The United States continues to support the status quo with regard to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and as Vice President Pence reaffirmed just in January here in Amman, we are committed to continuing to respect Jordan’s special role as the custodian of those holy sites in Jerusalem. We will continue to work for peace in the great hope of offering the best outcome for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.

The decision of the Trump administration to break with decades of U.S. policy on Jerusalem is of a piece with its broader repudiation of the failed efforts of its predecessors—on Jerusalem, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and beyond.

The Trump decision leaves Israel and Palestine where it found them—combatants on an unequal battlefield. But Jerusalem is not simply an arena where conflicting visions of the future compete, nor is it only a dusty museum important more for what has happened in the past than what will be in the future.

Palestinians who live in Jerusalem wage a lopsided battle against a government prejudiced against their well-being as Palestinians no less than as citizens of the city. Israel, as a matter of national policy, constrains and complicates their development as the mirror image of the policies that fortify its claim to rule the city.

Sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is without question an important issue, but the very sustainability of the presumptive Palestinian capital of East Jerusalem—an area that today is little more than a moribund collection of isolated neighborhoods—is no less important to the viability of a healthy and vibrant Arab presence in the city. How long can an Arab Jerusalem survive—even one defined as the capital of Palestine—if all that it has to commend it are an impoverished minority and the crumbling relics of a long lost history?

Geoffrey Aronson is chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.  The above essay is part of broader research in an upcoming paper for the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA).

38 Comments (Open | Close)

38 Comments To "Obama’s Failure Set Stage for Trump’s Unilateral Israel Policy"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 16, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

Mr. Aronson says that “The move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establish an embassy there is the most consequential American diplomatic action in the the Israeli-Arab conflict since the Truman administration’s recognition of the fledgling Israeli state seven decades ago.”

What should have been a far more “consequential American diplomatic action in the Israel-Arab conflict” was the November 7, 1956 message sent by President Eisenhower to Israeli Prime Ben Gurion, after Israel—later joined by Britain and France—had invaded Egypt and seized the Suez Canal.

“Message From President Eisenhower to Prime Minister Ben Gurion–Washington, November 7, 1956–DEAR MR. PRIME MINISTER: As you know, the General Assembly of the United Nations has arranged a cease-fire in Egypt to which Egypt, France, the United Kingdom and Israel have agreed. There is being dispatched to Egypt a United Nations force in accordance with pertinent resolutions of the General Assembly. That body has urged that all other foreign forces be withdrawn from Egyptian territory, and specifically, that Israeli forces be withdrawn to the General Armistice line. The resolution covering the cease-fire and withdrawal was introduced by the United States and received the overwhelming vote of the Assembly. Statements attributed to your Government to the effect that Israel does not intend to withdraw from Egyptian territory, as [Page 1064]requested by the United Nations, have been called to my attention. I must say frankly, Mr. Prime Minister, that the United States views these reports, if true, with deep concern. Any such decision by the Government of Israel would seriously undermine the urgent efforts being made by the United Nations to restore peace in the Middle East, and could not but bring about the condemnation of Israel as a violator of the principles as well as the directives of the United Nations. It is our belief that as a matter of highest priority peace should be restored and foreign troops, except for United Nations forces, withdrawn from Egypt, after which new and energetic steps should be undertaken within the framework of the United Nations to solve the basic problems which have given rise to the present difficulty. The United States has tabled in the General Assembly two resolutions designed to accomplish the latter purposes, and hopes that they will be acted upon favorably as soon as the present emergency has been dealt with. I need not assure you of the deep interest which the United States has in your country, nor recall the various elements of our policy of support to Israel in so many ways. It is in this context that I urge you to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly dealing with the current crisis and to make your decision known immediately. It would be a matter of the greatest regret to all my countrymen if Israeli policy on a matter of such grave concern to the world should in any way impair the friendly cooperation between our two countries. With best wishes, Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower”

#2 Comment By Whine Merchant On May 16, 2018 @ 10:57 pm

I’ve seen some pseudo-logic from all sides of politics, most recently from the GOP trying to make Trump look like anything other than what he really is, but this exercise in mental gymnastics to blame Trump’s blunders and sell-outs to AIPAC and Jarred on President Obama is the nadir of political comment.

Does Bibi actually buy space in TAC for these advertorials?

#3 Comment By Giovanni On May 17, 2018 @ 4:14 am

To fault Obama for failed policies going back to Truman is daft.
Obama was one of the few who actually took steps that either symbolically or factually defied the stated wishes of the Israeli government (e.g. Iran deal and UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements). I do not remember either Bush administration making major strides forward on the Israeli Palestine issue.

#4 Comment By K squared On May 17, 2018 @ 6:46 am

Well thank God it’s all Obama’s fault.

#5 Comment By John Dirlik On May 17, 2018 @ 7:02 am

Whether on Guantanamo, expanded wars or extra-judicial assassinations, Obama largely followed in his predecessors footsteps.

The first indication was his reaction (complete silence) right after winning the election, when Israel bombed one of the most crowded places on earth (Gaza) on a weekday at lunchtime, as streets are always packed with children on their way to and from school.

1400 perished in the 22-day assault including 230 children. Israel’s political timing was likewise carefully calculated – between the Republican defeat and Obama’s inauguration – to provide both leaders with the excuse to refrain from public criticism. To their shame, they obliged.

But to his credit, Obama resisted enormous Neo-Con pressures for “regime change” in Iran, that could have easily spiralled out of control (Tehran is no Baghdad paper tiger) with disastrous consequences. If only for this, Obama deserves his prematurely awarded Nobel Peace prize.

#6 Comment By Thaomas On May 17, 2018 @ 7:02 am

The fault for this fiasco is not Obama’s but of those who did not successful work for the election of Sec. Clinton. Whether that includes the author, I cannot say

#7 Comment By Balconesfault On May 17, 2018 @ 8:23 am

Right … if Obama had left some sort of framework in place, that certainly would have constrained Trump … who has been so reluctant to overturn any of Obama’s initiatives on the global stage.

That premise belongs in the Onion, and not in TAC.

#8 Comment By Donald On May 17, 2018 @ 8:30 am

Obama did fail ,but Trump was going to be a disaster regardless. Obama had one great success in the Middle East— the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump tore it up. So the stage didn’t matter. Trump is perfectly capable of being a horrible President on any given issue no matter what Obama did.

#9 Comment By William Burns On May 17, 2018 @ 8:34 am

The iron law of modern history seems to be “whatever happens, Palestinians lose.”

#10 Comment By The Dean On May 17, 2018 @ 8:53 am

How do you justify taking real estate away from a Palestinian family and giving it to a Jewish family from Poland, solely based on the fact that they are Jewish?
Someone please explain this to me.

#11 Comment By Doug On May 17, 2018 @ 8:58 am

How can you write an article supposedly about Obama’s failures in the Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ and not even have a passing mention of Bibi Netanyahu’s intransigence?

Also, the charge that Obama ‘enabled’ Trump’s bad policy is ridiculous. The Iran Deal created all the things you blame Obama for failing to establish, re: Israel-Palestine: a serious diplomatic process, an agreement on the substantive issues, and even further, an honest-to-goodness agreement.

Trump still through it out.

Are we really supposed to believe that Trump would have hesitated to throw out any sort of diplomatic framework established by the Obama administration?

#12 Comment By Argon On May 17, 2018 @ 9:28 am

Yeah. I remember how Netenyahu was so cooperative and ready to work with the Obama administration to resolve issues. Oh, wait… That was an alternate reality.

#13 Comment By TJ Martin On May 17, 2018 @ 9:58 am

Methinks you need to change the word ‘ decisive ‘ in the header to the more accurate wording of … ‘ blatantly device ‘

#14 Comment By collin On May 17, 2018 @ 10:00 am

Your headline is awful and it has been ‘failures’ for all Presidency since Nixon or Truman. Anyway, it is probably better to blame Israel and Palestine leaders than our Presidents. We cant force an agreement here so it is not our fault.

Reading about Israel and Palestine reads a lot like the battles of Britain and Ireland in the 1980s. The Irish terrorist tactics led to a lot of short term necessary steps by Britain to protect themselves. However, because Britain’s long term occupying Ireland led to their various protest and rebellions.

And Israel has no interest and let Gaza or Palestine have freedom so Gaza and Palestine have given Israel no security assurances.

#15 Comment By JeffK On May 17, 2018 @ 10:30 am

The fact that President Obama refused to kneel and kiss Bibi’s butt and do his bidding is the root cause of all that’s wrong in the Middle East.

Got it.

#16 Comment By sglover On May 17, 2018 @ 10:45 am

@Balconesfault:
That premise belongs in the Onion, and not in TAC.

Wish I could agree, but I’d say this goofy, risible article is pretty typical of what TAC has devolved to over the last couple of years.

#17 Comment By Ken T On May 17, 2018 @ 10:48 am

The basic premise of this article is that if only Obama had succeeded in solving every problem on the fact of the Earth, it wouldn’t matter that Trump is a blithering idiot, because there would be nothing left for him to screw up. Therefore it is all Obama’s fault.

#18 Comment By Donald On May 17, 2018 @ 11:17 am

I think most of this article was fine, but blaming Trump’s actions on Obama was a form of trolling and it had the predictable result, where people ignore most of the piece and focus on the clickbait headline. This includes me. Why do this?

The fact is there is plenty of room for blaming Obama for his own actions, including using the reflexive phrase “Israel has the right to defend itself” when Israel commits war crimes. Our failures on this issue are bipartisan. That is the simple truth. But the title of this post was clickbait.

#19 Comment By Frank On May 17, 2018 @ 11:24 am

This essay went over well.

#20 Comment By snapper On May 17, 2018 @ 11:26 am

“How do you justify taking real estate away from a Palestinian family and giving it to a Jewish family from Poland, solely based on the fact that they are Jewish?
Someone please explain this to me.”

The Arabs tried to wipe Israel off the map, and would have slaughtered the Jews if they could.

They tried, but they lost. When you lose wars, you lose territory. Thus has it ever been.

And when you lose wars that you started, you have no right to complain about your losses.

#21 Comment By Lenny On May 17, 2018 @ 11:47 am

Snapper

I guess the question is , why is the Polish family in Palestine in the first place?

If your argument is that , to the winner goes the spoils, well, let’s revisit that once Iran and every other country surrounding Israel is armed with Nuclear weapons, and may be ballistic missiles capable of reaching the USA.

Israel had a historic opportunity with the Saudi Peace initiative, but chose apartheid instead.

#22 Comment By Lenny On May 17, 2018 @ 11:50 am

No American President can win on this issue as long as Congress is willing to overrule any decision by any President that is not favorable to Israel.
The Democratic electorate are slowly moving away from their unconditional support of Israel, and within a decade, there will be enough of a shift to make a difference

By then, it will be too late

#23 Comment By marteen On May 17, 2018 @ 12:01 pm

And when you lose wars that you started, you have no right to complain about your losses.

The family who lost their home started a war? Every Arab in Palestine must pay a price for past wars? Even if this logic was reasonable, how long should people (who may have been born after these conflicts) be held responsible and be punished?

#24 Comment By marteen On May 17, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

“And when you lose wars that you started, you have no right to complain about your losses.”

The family who lost their home started a war? Every Arab in Palestine must pay a price for past wars? Even if this logic was reasonable, how long should people (who may have been born after these conflicts) be held responsible and be punished?

#25 Comment By b. On May 17, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

“But reversing the American fait accompli, which sets the United States and Israel against the international consensus on Jerusalem, is impossible.”

Really?

The US is free to unilaterally close and relocate embassies as it sees fit, including to Gaza. JCOPA is an actual international agreement with multiple signatories, including all permanent USNC members, and one US administration just broken all commitments another made.

Future administrations might well aid, abet, facilitate or even participate in, in Gaza and Golan, what the Obama and Trump administrations have, in Yemen, and stand by while Israel finalizes its decades-long campaign of ethnic cleansing and annexation. Or they might end US military and economical aid to Israel, sanction Israel for its crimes against humanity and its rogue nuclear weapons program, and lead an effort to organize international boycotts to put pressure on the world’s leading apartheid regime.

From LBJ to Reagan to Trump, the only constant of US inconstancy is that anything is possible.

#26 Comment By connecticut farmer On May 17, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

@ The Dean

“How do you justify taking real estate away from a Palestinian family and giving it to a Jewish family from Poland, solely based on the fact that they are Jewish?”

Beats the hell out of me! Many Zionists will argue that it’s justified in The Bible–a book in which many of them no longer even believe.

#27 Comment By KXB On May 17, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

Right – like Bibi, the GOP, AIPAC, and Zionist Dems like Schumer screaming bloody murder anytime Obama even said the words “Palestine” or “settlements” played no role in the the lack of progress during Obama’s presidency.

#28 Comment By KXB On May 17, 2018 @ 1:36 pm

Snapper – after independence, all of Israel’s war, save for Yom Kippur in 1973, were started by Israel.

#29 Comment By Dan Green On May 17, 2018 @ 2:33 pm

We all need be reminded. Trumans cabinet was split on his decision to allow a Jewish State. Those against remarked, This decision will be a forever problem for the USA”.

#30 Comment By Jeeves On May 17, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

@snapper
I’d amend your first statement to “Arabs tried to wipe Israel off the map SEVERAL TIMES…”

As one of the (evidently) few TAC readers who isn’t anti-Zionist (I won’t go further), I’m a little amazed at how many here have leapt to Obama’s defense. He was a terrible president who, if all the memos are ever de-classified and unredacted, will be revealed to be the architect of the attempt torpedo Trump’s election chances. It’s a pity either of them got elected, but that Clinton was the only alternative to Trump is surely Obama’s fault.

#31 Comment By mrscracker On May 17, 2018 @ 2:57 pm

snapper says:

“How do you justify taking real estate away from a Palestinian family and giving it to a Jewish family from Poland, solely based on the fact that they are Jewish?
Someone please explain this to me.”

The Arabs tried to wipe Israel off the map, and would have slaughtered the Jews if they could.

They tried, but they lost. When you lose wars, you lose territory. Thus has it ever been.

And when you lose wars that you started, you have no right to complain about your losses.”
***************
I understand that in principle, but I think people still have a right to complain.

Wherever you reside-especially in the Americas- chances are you occupy land that appropriated or lost in some similar way.

#32 Comment By TTT On May 17, 2018 @ 2:57 pm

“How do you justify taking real estate away from a Palestinian family and giving it to a Jewish family from Poland, solely based on the fact that they are Jewish?”

It’s hard to justify, since as Axis Holocaust collaborators the Palestinians should have lost a lot more than their door frames. They got off light. Perhaps someday we will reach the point where Israel will be willing to accept an apology and reparations from them.

#33 Comment By mrscracker On May 17, 2018 @ 3:10 pm

The Dean says:

“How do you justify taking real estate away from a Palestinian family and giving it to a Jewish family from Poland, solely based on the fact that they are Jewish?”
***************

I wouldn’t be the one to explain that, but Cajuns could relate to you their history of being forcibly removed from their land, exiled, & their land given to British settlers from outside Canada- solely based on the fact that they were loyal British.

I wish there was a Louisiana option out there for the Palestinians.

#34 Comment By Bruce On May 17, 2018 @ 6:40 pm

From Wikipedia. “Geoffrey Aronson is a writer and analyst, specializing in Middle East affairs. He was the director for Foundation for Middle East Peace and the editor of the bimonthly Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories until June 2014.” Just to keep things in context.

#35 Comment By John Dirlik On May 17, 2018 @ 7:57 pm

snapper wrote: “When you lose wars, you lose territory. Thus has it ever been.”

True, world history is a shifting mass of expanding, retreating and sometimes disappearing peoples and empires, occasionally through natural disasters but mostly by foreign invasions. (Even the ancient Hebrews did not originate in what is now Israel, but invaded from elsewhere and exterminated the Canaanite inhabitants).

But after WWII, the acquisition of territory by force became universally unacceptable. The right to self-determination was also enshrined, and thus began the process of decolonization.

A reversal of that trend was Israel’s establishment on part of predominantly Arab Palestine against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants.

Zionists naturally accepted the UN Partition as it gave them a Jewish state they didn’t have – and the Arabs of Palestine naturally rejected it since it meant the loss of half their existing homeland.

And it was strictly a tactical acceptance on the part of Zionists, as David Ben-Gurion candidly articulated in 1937: “We shall accept a state with fixed boundaries today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concerns of the Jewish people and no external factors can limit them.”

#36 Comment By TTT On May 18, 2018 @ 2:07 pm

After WWII, the acquisition of territory by force became universally unacceptable… A reversal of that trend was Israel’s establishment on part of predominantly Arab Palestine against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants.

So this trend became universal and was then reversed…. all within 2 years? Also, a “right to self-determination” that excludes self-determination for Jews isn’t much of a right.

Your reference to 1937 severely undercuts your argument: that year Ben-Gurion accepted the Peel Commision’s map for an Israel that would have been a tiny indefensible comma from Haifa to Tel Aviv. All he wanted was to be able to start issuing passports so Jews could flee the Holocaust. But the Arabs rejected even granting that much sovereignty to the Jews, even though the Jews were already in the majority in the territory of 1937 “proto-Israel”, because apartheid against Jews has been a defining feature of their culture for a thousand years and they were not willing to let go of it. The sentiment from Mississippi Burning applies: “If you’re not better than a Jew, then who ARE you better than?”

#37 Comment By John Dirlik On May 18, 2018 @ 3:37 pm

“apartheid against Jews has been a defining feature of their (Arab-Muslim) culture for a thousand years”

While Jews under Christendom suffered two millennia of systemic persecution as “Christ-killers” culminating in the Holocaust, they (and Christians) as “people of the book” largely co-existed and even prospered in the vast Muslim world for centuries before the forceful carving of Israel out of predominantly Arab Palestine poisoned relations.

True, non-Muslims were second-class dhimmies, but this was at a time Americans owned slaves. Persecution of minorities (including Jews) existed everywhere and the Muslim world was no exception. But no one disputes (not even the pro-Israel scholar Bernard Lewis) that historically, Jews fared far better under Islam than Christendom until Zionism appeared.

The seeds of conflict were only sown in the 1880’s when European anti-Semitism gave birth to a Zionist movement that sought to recreate a Jewish homeland in an already populated Palestine. Arab hostility to waves of European colonizers with ambitious territorial designs was hardly irrational. Neither was Palestinian anger at the breathless hypocrisy of Western countries – Canada included – that shut their borders to Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich but magnanimously voted at the UN to dismember Palestine for a Jewish state.

For decades, Palestinians adamantly refused to “recognize Israel”. They were asked not only to renounce their homeland but also to grant legitimacy to its usurpers. Today, the entire Arab world is offering an end to the conflict through a two-state solution. Intoxicated with power and with a sugar daddy called Washington, Israel chooses illegal settlements and occupation over peace.

#38 Comment By John Dirlik On May 18, 2018 @ 3:44 pm

PS
In the same year Ben-Gurion “accepted…an Israel that would have been a tiny…” he wrote “We shall accept a state with fixed boundaries today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factors can limit them.”