For all of President Obama's repeated insistence that the status quo in Israeli-Palestinian relations is unsustainable, recent developments make clear that his administration has no new ideas or strategies to achieve a breakthrough toward peace.
His statements during three recent high-profile events -- last Thursday's address at the State Department on the Arab Spring, last Friday's bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sunday's speech at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- reveal the president committed to reinforcing, rather than altering, the current state of affairs.
The president made waves on Thursday when he stated, "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." Many analysts interpreted his remarks as a bold, new policy statement that the United States would pressure Israel to revert to its 1949 armistice lines.
Even had Obama put this forward as his initiative, it would have broken no new ground. In fact, ending Israel's illegal 44-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip and returning to its pre-1967 lines has been the underlying assumption of all negotiations for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, the United Nations adopted, with full U.S. backing, Security Council Resolution 242, which reiterates the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."
Yet the president, who reconvened Israeli-Palestinian negotiations last fall with no terms of reference (breaking with two decades of U.S. peacemaking efforts of at least nominally mentioning Security Council resolutions as the basis for talks), explicitly failed to call on Israel to implement its obligation to withdraw to its pre-1967 armistice lines.
Instead, he referred to these lines only as a basis for borders between Israel and a future State of Palestine, with agreed-upon territorial exchanges. In practice, what this means is that the United States will continue to join with Israel in arm-twisting Palestinians into accepting Israeli annexation of most of its illegal settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and receiving as a booby prize uninhabitable sand dunes appended to the Gaza Strip.
This is the same failed formula for negotiations that the Clinton and Bush administrations repeatedly tried to ram down Palestinian throats starting at Camp David in 2000. Continual U.S. mediation postures, based on accommodating Israeli territorial aggrandizement, attempting to validate Israel's violations of international law and rejecting Palestinian human and national rights as requirements needing to be fulfilled, have done more than anything else to undermine the U.S. claim to be an "honest broker" and to discredit the U.S.-dominated "peace process."
That Obama wants to continue along this failed trajectory brings to mind Albert Einstein's definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Netanyahu immediately decried Obama's stance as creating "indefensible" borders for Israel. This feigned indignation at Obama's supposed policy change was political theater par excellence, designed to incite Israel's knee-jerk supporters into action to constrain the President even more. And indeed they did, with the Zionist Organization of America accusing Obama of proposing "Auschwitz" borders for Israel and members of Congress threatening a condemnatory resolution. This explains why, in his much-applauded AIPAC address, the president confirmed that the more things change, as the Arab Spring blossoms, the more things stay the same with U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. "There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations," he stated.
Palestinians, realizing that having even the most rhetorically empathetic president to their plight in the White House still will not change U.S. policy to align with their human and national rights, have rightly jettisoned the straightjacket of the U.S.-led "peace process."
Instead, this fall Palestinians will attempt to go around and not through the United States to attain statehood and full membership in the UN. The only new, and dangerous, development in U.S. policy articulated by President Obama in recent days is his vehement firmness that this, or any, effort to achieve Palestinian rights in the UN, constitutes the "delegitimization" of Israel and a deliberate attempt to isolate it internationally.
The President vowed at AIPAC that "No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum." But by failing to present new policy ideas and, at the same time, threatening the international community if it takes the initiative, Obama is only succeeding in enabling Israel to maintain, rather than change, the status quo he claims is unsustainable. Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 350 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.