But after two years of butting heads with Netanyahu over settlements, Obama was no longer willing to risk the domestic political cost of continuing to pressure a recalcitrant Israeli government. The Obama Administration essentially threw up its hands in December of 2010, forced to accept defeat after two years of trying to complete the peace process.
Today, there’s no prospect of achieving a two-state peace agreement through bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The only change to Jerusalem’s status quo currently underway is the expansion of Israel’s control of the eastern parts of the city it occupied in the war of 1967 — hardly a cause for concern among those who proclaim it the undivided capital of the Jewish State, even if it is routinely denounced as “unhelpful” by a U.S. State Department mindful of the damage that expansion does to the prospects for a peace agreement.
So it’s plausible, albeit unlikely, that the Democrats’ initial omission of any reference to Jerusalem could simply have been an oversight. After all, who in Washington talks to or about the Palestinians any more? When it comes to Israel, the only topic of conversation these days is Iran’s nuclear program.
A few Israeli intellectuals glumly warn that Netanyahu has effectively buried the two-state solution, and that the result will be eventual Palestinian demands for civil rights within a single, common polity. Even Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s defense minister and fellow Iran hawk, warned early in 2010, “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
Barak was describing the status quo in words that would bring a frenzy of denunciation if spoken in the U.S. domestic political mainstream. Apartheid, after all, is the South African term coined for the system of white domination in which black people were denied the rights of citizenship in the state that ruled over them — and it eventually prompted a campaign of international isolation and economic sanctions. The recent decision by South Africa’s post-apartheid government prohibiting products made in occupied territories from being labeled “Made in Israel” could be a portent of things to come in the wider international community.
(MORE: 10 Questions for Ehud Barak)
Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Having had no illusions about what to expect from Netanyahu, he can’t have any left, either, about what to expect from Washington. But having effectively mortgaged Palestinian independence to U.S. political whims — which the campaign platform spat confirms is tilted entirely in Israel’s favor — Abbas finds himself running a Palestinian Authority whose role is confined to administering and securing the status quo. His most recent attempt to shake things up by seeking U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state last year collapsed under U.S. pressure, and though he is threatening to repeat the exercise at this month’s session of the U.N. General Assembly, that threat may hold no more water than U.S. campaign promises on the location of the U.S. embassy in Israel.
Events in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere have confirmed that U.S. influence has waned across the Arab Middle East. Having little to offer the Palestinians beyond handouts to ameliorate the status quo, Washington’s ability to set the limits on their actions may also be on the verge of collapse. Recent days of have seen massive and growing West Bank protests over cost of living issues, and Israeli reports suggest that Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister appointed at Washington’s behest, is planning to quit. Abbas, for his part, sought to associate himself with the protests, proclaiming them the onset of a “Palestinian Spring.” If so, there’s a dark cloud gathering over the prospects of political survival for Abbas and his Authority.
If the Israelis pay little heed to the platforms of the Democrats and Republicans, the Palestinians pay them even less. As their economic and social well-being in the West Bank declines, there’s nothing going on in the Washington conversation that offers the Palestinians any reason to continue accepting U.S. tutelage, or being led by those who do. On the contrary, the spirit of the Arab Spring suggests they’ll take matters into their own hands — in ways that the Israelis won’t like, and which the U.S. will have little leverage to contain.