Yesterday in the New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen said that it’s time for “break-through” diplomacy by Obama in Israel and Palestine, leading to a two-state solution. He dismissed my one-state friends, saying:
“there are a lot of pie-in-the-sky citizen-diplomats out there these days blathering on about dreamy one-state solutions for Israel-Palestine and the like.”
But maybe the two-state solution is pie in the sky? Here are some of Cohen’s confident prognostications about the two-state solution at the Doha Debates 3 years ago, when he argued that the U.S. under Obama had become the “honest broker” and had ceased to be Israel’s lawyer and could make peace in the Middle East in Obama’s first term. Cohen essentially dismisses the power of the Israel lobby in the U.S., and says that Obama will firmly oppose settlements and then punish Israel if it continues to build settlements by not opposing a UN resolution condemning Israel for such conduct. Obama in fact later vetoed just such a resolution. Excerpts:
ROGER COHEN : The idea that Barack Obama is too weak to achieve Middle East peace does not stand up. Too weak? This man has spent his life overcoming impossible obstacles, breaking barriers. Remember he was too black to become President, had too many Muslim family members to win a post 9/11 White House, was too much of an outsider to beat the Clinton machine, and then the McCain machine, was too cerebral, too hesitant, to pass healthcare, and then what happened? He did all those things. Obama’s toughness has trumped the naysayers again and again. Why should it not be the same in the Middle East? This President, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a tough realist. A lot of idealism has been projected onto Obama, but it’s the US interest, the US objectives, that drive him. And he’s now identified as a vital US national security interest to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. This is a huge strategic shift; it’s a shift from being Israel’s lawyer, which is more or less where the United States was in the Bush administration, to becoming an honest broker. And, as you know, negotiations can only succeed when you have an honest broker. Now this has happened not, because in my view President Obama woke up one morning and thought to himself, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to have peace?’ But because US soldiers have told him, have said: ‘Mr. President, if you’re serious about your outreach to the Muslim world, and if you’re serious about these two wars in Muslim countries and if you’re serious about taking on the Jihadist threat, all these things are undermined by festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broad perception of Palestinian victimhood’.
President Obama is strong, and he is a change agent…
Moderator Tim Sebastian: But Roger Cohen, in a year of President Obama the process, the Middle East peace process, has ground to a halt, there are now no negotiations at all, even under Bush there were negotiations.
Well I have some news for you Tim, the negotiations, the proximity talks, are going to begin again next month..
AHMAD MOUSSALLI (American University of Beirut)
I think we are not judging the intention of the president, I think there is an agreement that he has good intention and I don’t think we should tell the audience that Obama loves us, we love him, therefore we love each other. That’s not the problem. The problem is the following: when Netanyahu was with Obama in The White House, Israel declared that they are going to build 20 housing settlements in Jerusalem. Of course the president was angry with him, but nothing happened.
But did you see what happened when Netanyahu was in Washington? It was a whitewash, he was invisible. And why? Because the President was furious…
I am arguing that President Obama is a man who delivers, he can deliver, this is what his whole political career demonstrates, and I am not here to defend the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu, I am here to say that Obama has a vision, he is moving toward it, he’s not going to be distracted or diverted from it, not by Iran, not by anything…
I don’t think President Obama is waiting for a second term, I think he’s determined to move ahead as fast as possible and of course with 62 years of history going against the notion of a peace settlement it’s hard to argue that this man, now, somehow will pluck from the air what has eluded everybody else. Nevertheless I would submit to you that there has been a very fundamental change. After 9/11 what happened? President Bush in essence said: ‘I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel against the Jihadists’, and that was it. Now President Obama has completely reformulated the equation, he has said: ‘I want to reach out to the Muslim world, I want reconciliation, we’re in intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what is a powerful terror recruitment tool? What makes it so difficult to reach out to the Muslim world? It’s precisely the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So he is turning things around, he’s looking at it from a different angle…
when these proximity talks begin there is going to be no more building, that is going to be firmly laid down by the White House. If Israel engages in another provocation of the kind we saw when Joe Biden was in Jerusalem there are going to be consequences.
What do you see those consequences being?
Well we might see a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli action that the United States does not oppose; for example, traditionally United States has vetoed that kind of thing. There will be more and more pressure.
What about the aid, because that’s the big pressure point isn’t it?
Yeah, that you’re not going to see, I don’t believe, certainly not in a first term anyway.
I think it’s too sensitive.
But if he’s serious?
Well he’s serious, but he’s also a politician who has to make careful calculations.
And he’s worried about annoying the Israel lobby even further.
He’s firm, he’s moving forward.