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March 30, 2015 7:41 am

Obama, Not Netanyahu, is Killing the Two-State Solution

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President Barack Obama is killing the prospects of a two-state solution, Ben Cohen argues. Photo: White House. – President Barack Obama is correct. There is, as he said on Tuesday, no realistic prospect of a Palestinian state being created through a diplomatic process for the foreseeable future.

“What we can’t do is pretend that there’s a possibility for something that’s not there,” Obama said. “And we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.”

So that, it would seem, is that. In 2012, Obama confidently told the UN General Assembly, “The road is hard, but the destination is clear: a secure Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine.” Now, he has conceded that his own journey is over and the destination remains virtually invisible upon the horizon. The elixir that is a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has eluded Obama, just as it did his predecessors.

That is not an outcome we should celebrate. I also applaud the vision of a secure Jewish state of Israel living peaceably with a neighboring, prosperous Palestinian state—only I would add the entire Middle East to the equation. But here is where any empathy I have with the president ends.

It was entirely predictable that Obama would blame his predicament on one man: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The issue is a very clear substantive challenge: We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations and for regional stability,” Obama said. Then he added, drily, “And Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach.”

The Netanyahu approach, as understood by Obama, was summarized in remarks he made the previous day. “Prime Minister Netanyahu in the election run-up stated that a Palestinian state would not occur while he was prime minister, and I took him at his word that that’s what he meant, and I think that a lot of voters inside of Israel understood him to be saying that fairly unequivocally,” said the president. He concluded that the “prospect of a meaningful framework” that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state was not in sight.

In the future, Obama said, a credible negotiating framework would be one “that gives the Palestinians hope, the possibility that down the road they have a secure state of their own standing side by side with a secure and fully recognized Jewish state of Israel.” In this sentence, there was a faint admonishing of Netanyahu, the implication being that the Israeli government’s negotiating positions and actions in the current framework left the Palestinians with no hope at all.

It’s here that we get to the heart of the dispute between Obama and Netanyahu, far beneath the surface noise of their mutual dislike. “The issue is not a matter of relations between leaders,” Obama said. And he is right. Ultimately, Israel maddens Obama because its people and its leaders—whatever their disagreements over how Netanyahu has handled his personal relationship with Obama—are rightly wary of his strategy of enabling Iran to become the dominant power in the Middle East, among the many consequences of which is that many Sunni Arabs turn to groups like the “Islamic State” terror entity in response.

What this reveals quite sharply is that Obama has never really empathized with the emotions that govern Israeli perceptions of the wider region—outrage that nearly 70 years after the Jewish state’s creation, the Arab and Muslim world remains consumed by antisemitism and eliminationist ambitions towards Israel; impatience when it comes to a peace process that promises so much and requires so many sacrifices, like the 2005 evacuation of Gaza, and yet seldom, if ever, makes good; fear of a nuclear Iran and contempt for the negotiating process that is abetting it.

From Obama’s point of view, though, it’s all about the current distribution of power and resources. Israel, Obama believes, controls the land, has a prosperous economy, and is robustly protected by a first-class military that enjoys a close, productive relationship with its American counterpart. It also has the support of America’s influential and prosperous Jewish community, which further cements the distinctive relationship between the two nations. And yet, despite all those advantages, Israel refuses to see that a complete moratorium on construction activities in Jewish communities in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem is in its best interests, thus fueling the anger of extremists who oppose the peace process, thus leading to repeated wars in Gaza, thus provoking international condemnation and isolation, and so on and so forth.

We cannot compel Obama to see things differently. But I do fear that his legacy, as it applies to Israelis, will be a wholly negative one: namely, to kill off any remnants of support for a two-state solution.

After all, it’s not just about the last seven years. The Oslo process, the second Palestinian intifada, the withdrawal from Gaza, and the assaults from Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, have all persuaded Israelis that hard, territorial compromises can actually bring more war, rather than less conflict. Yes, a good number of Israelis might dislike Netanyahu personally, and think that he bears a portion of the blame for the fractious relationship with the White House. But that does not imply their support for a peace process that defines Israeli concessions as the main yardstick of progress—suggesting, at the same time, that the compromises they’ve already made, like the 10-month freeze on settlement building that was implemented in late 2009, are worthless.

“Each man kills the thing he loves,” wrote Oscar Wilde. And the president bears him out. Obama’s zeal to create a Palestinian state, and his elevation of that quest to the most important goal of American policy in the region, has been profoundly disquieting for Israel. Not only do Israelis perceive Obama as placing undue pressure and censure upon Netanyahu, but they also perceive him as an appeaser of the Iranian mullahs and of the Assad regime in Syria. Should the phrase “two-state solution” become a permanent metaphor for a failed policy, Obama’s contribution on that score will have been decisive. But he will choose to blame Israel and its wily leader instead. That, after all, has been one of the few constants of this administration’s Middle East policy.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of The Tower, writes a weekly column for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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    “President Barack Obama is correct. There is no realistic prospect of a Palestinian state being created through a diplomatic process for the foreseeable future.

    “What we can’t do is pretend that there’s a possibility for something that’s not there,” Obama said. “And we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.””


    So Israel should take this up and say: IF this is not a reasonable solution in the near future, let us spend some time on investigation the situation without time pressure. Let’s go to the world, universities, think tanks, and put the problem on the table openly – and totally: from the roots of the conflict, and see what are the solutions within the possibilities.

    This will give us opportunity to present Israel’s case ALL OVER the world, including in places where we could not be heard. Let us discuss “Apartheid Week”. Everything. Where does the truth lie! We know the answer, and sohuld have confidence that with minimal preparations – we will defuse the danger of the 2SS.

  • Paul

    Vilifying Obama will not solve the problem of assuring Israel’s continued survival. Only a 2-state peace agreement will do that.
    The settlement of Israeli civilians in the territories is a case of Israel shooting itself in the leg. It has no future, and has an accumulating unbearable cost in security, international political support, the economy, the welfare of our increasingly impoverished citizens, education, and the moral fortitude which raised this country. (To name a few).
    We don’t need peace for Obama, we need it for Israel to survive.
    Maintaining military control of the territories until Israel can be assured there will be no existential threat from them is an issue that all Israel’s allies and all reasonable and fair-minded people will understand and accept.
    But placing Israeli civilian settlements in the territories is something that NONE of our allies, and about half the Israelis, cannot accept. It cannot be justified except in messianic religious terms – promises made by God to Abraham, 3000 years ago. These is NOT an acceptable argument to anyone but messianic nationalists. It ignores the rights of the millions of people who have lived there in the last 2000 years, and is an attempt at modern-day colonialism after colonialism has been banned in the civilised world.
    Israel and the territories contain 62% jews and 58% arabs – almost equal numbers. The largest party after the first democratic elections in this unified country will be the arab party – they will form the government. Arabs will be free to immediately swamp the country – as equal citizens – where today Palestinians are forbidden entry. The arabs have a higher birth rate. A single state will soon become an arab state – or a state that tries to deny the rights of half the polpulation (this is what they mean by an apartheid state).
    ALL Israelis are dead against allowing the arabs the right of return to Israel, since this would be the end of the Jewish state. But all the right-wingers want a single state solution – which would establish exactly the situation they reject with the right of return. How stupid can one be ?
    So, Obama wants us to strive for peace and regards a single state option as destructive to Israel. He may be a lousy president but on THIS issue HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

  • Yale

    The “two-state” solution is based on the premise that there is a Palestinian people. If there is no such people, then the need for a state for them becomes very questionable.

    Arabic has no “P”, so no Arab people, which the “P”alestinians claim to be, could choose a name like this for themselves. That they use this name internationally proves that they are not the ancient people they claim to be.

    But it gets worse: The inability of the PA and Hamas to agree on goals establishes that the “P”alestinians aren’t a people today; they’re basically a collection of groups and clans that hasn’t quite managed to coalesce into a people. Recognizing this destroys their claim to being ancient. That the refugees from 1948 insist they cannot live in territories that might become a “P”alestinian state demonstrates that they don’t see other “P”alestinians as countrymen.

    The next issue is that topology requires that either Israel or “P”alestine be non-contiguous. The track record for non-contiguous countries isn’t good: Either an effort is made to establish contiguity by seizing territory (Germany 1939) or the country splits (Pakistan and Bangladesh). To make “P”alestine contiguous would require a land bridge across 1948 Israel that Israel will almost certainly not be willing to accept.

    Put these factors together and the solution is not “Two states for two peoples” but a State of Israel for the Jews, with Gaza annexed to Egypt and a new border drawn between Israel and Jordan on the West Bank, with Jordanian territory west of the Jordan to be demilitarized. Both Egypt and Jordan already have peace treaties with Israel, so the recognition issue won’t stand in the way it does with establishing a “P”alestine.

    With the “occupation” and other territorial issues resolved, the remaining issue will be resettling the 1948 refugees. Without the cudgel of bringing on a new war, the answer here is what it should have been 65 years ago: resettlement in place.

    A Palestinian state, Obama’s goal, has actually been the problem all along.

  • zadimel

    In the film Casablanca,Captain Renault expressed a feigned reaction towards gambling,when he thundered that famous line: “I’m shocked,shocked that gambling is going on in here” (while a croupier hands Renault a pile of money). I equate the president with Renault, and the gambling and its money with the objective of annihilation of Israel by Palestinians and other Arabs.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    President Obama has been a pox upon Israel’s reputation in the Middle East during his term to date. His forceful, offensive meddling in any so-clled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians is not only not appreciated by many if not most Israelis, but it has been an unnecessary, at times, extremely fulsome obstruction to justice felt by most Israelis in its attempt to block the acceptance of a fait accompli, the Jewish State of israel.

  • Elisheva

    Here is an interview with Sen. Cruz on CNN about the 2-State Solution:

    This sounds like a credible Pro-Israel Presidential Candidate.

  • Elisheva

    The real cause for the lack of Peace is not Natanyahu but is clearly the behavior of the majority of the Palestinians and their leaders. European leaders, Kerry and Obama seem blind to everything the Palestinians do or don’t do. There is a double standard in negotiating…only Israel makes concessions. Abbas has done everything in his power to warn Israelis that the Palestinians are not interested in peace. He is interested in destroying Israel. Daily Incitement on PA Media that is readily seen by all. The lies and threats do not sound peaceful to me. Israel does not have a credible peace partner. When people are sincere at wanting peace they don’t just make demands and threats. What did the Palestinians offer as any proof ever that they were motivated for Peace? People just assume that everyone wants peace. Abbas requested that Natanyahu release Pre-Oslo 104 Palestinian Prisoners with blood on their hands. Murderers of Jews. What did Israel get in return? More requests, threats and demands only. It is time for the Palestinians to show some credible proof that they want to reform. Israel is unjustly always blamed for any failure in peace negotiations and not recognized for its efforts to live in Peace with its hostile neighbors.

    According to The New Republic:
    “Netanyahu was asked to free 104 convicted murderers just to sit down with Abbas. And Abbas was being asked to do … what, exactly?” Netanyahu froze settlement and again Abbas did what?

    The Palestinian Plan is not for peace, it is for domination and supremacy. That includes joining a government with Hamas and resuming the U.N. campaign.

    Abbas is clear that no Jews will live in the Palestinian State. He refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. He is for boycotting all Israeli products. He is just Arafat in a suit.

    I believe a Abbas, who wrote his dissertation on denying the holocaust, was never motivated for Peace.

  • Obama is KNOWN to be a Muslim and supports fully the jihadists desire to wipe Israel off the map totally – which is the object of 1948 borders. 2 states is no solution – its suicide for Israel.

    Of course YHVH, the GOD of Israel wont allow her destroyed again! He will kill ALL who come against her. ALL nations supporting a ‘palestine’ on Israeli heartland curse themselves. Genesis 12:3

  • Dav6

    To think there is a two-state solution in our lifetime or in our kids’, and indeed within Israel’s League of Nations mandated borders, is a fallacy. Anybody who thinks otherwise should seriously consider a mental health check. There are already two Palestines: Jewish Palestine (State of Israel) and Arab Palestine (Kingdom of Jordan), not to mention a third Palestine being Gaza. Who needs another hostile state in the most repulsive region of the world! Obama’s foreign policy of appeasement and pull-back has made the world a much unsafer place and is destined to lead to nuclear catastrophe if not stopped dead in its tracks.

  • ms Bo Salsberg

    Israel must acknowledge that that US policy of peaceful negotiations is blatantly at risk. Trust has been breached, words have been minced and respect is slowly ebbing. The ugly face of hate looms at its borders and permeates the political air they breathe.

  • President Obama strikes me as a frivolous man. He does not think he is. He was the editor the Harvard Law Review and a Senator and now the President of the United States. What he lacks, however, is wisdom. His refusal to demand anything of Morsi is an example. While democratically elected, Morsi became a dictator. The President was stuck on the election process and Morsi and Muslim brotherhood was forcing the Egyptians to become Islamists. The Egyptians and the Army objected and Obama is still brooding over the fact that Morsi won the election. He was tossed out of office and put in jail by the Egyptians. It would be like Obama brooding Hitler, if he has been thrown out of office by force. U can hear him whining now that Morsi was elected. My point is, the President seems to lack nuance, flexibility and the ability to see the world as it really is. It is so sad. He could have made a difference. He seemed to have such promise. It turned out he had no clothing.

  • Leo Toystory

    President BO isn’t at all interested in a two-state solution, he wants Israel to disappear. That is why he is helping Iran to get nukes and take over the Middle East, he figures Iran is the one force best equipped to destroy Israel.

  • Yeshayahu Goldfeld

    Now that even President Obama concedes that a two-state solution does not exist , Israel should propose the establishing of a bi-national state of all its inhabitants, democratic and secular , as the only feasible solution .

  • Barrack Hussein Obama face it – Israel is Jewish territory and it is not negotiable.
    The Arabs already have 46,000 sq. miles of Jewish land (5 times the size of Israel) that they confiscated from the million Jews they expelled from Arab countries in the past 90 years. They also have the Jewish territory of Jordan.
    I think you do not have your facts straight – Israel belongs to the Jews.
    The Quran states it clearly.
    Israel is a Jewish State its territories are non-negotiable. It has been a Jewish country for over 4,000 years.
    The Arab-Palestinians are the occupiers. All they want is to destroy the Jews. They educated their children and the masses to commit terror and violence against Israel. The dance in the streets when the twin towers in 9-11 collapsed and 3,000 Americans died.
    It is amazing how you and many others choose to ignore that the Arab countries have expelled over a million Jews from their countries in the last 90 years. Jews who lived there for over 2,000 years. The Arabs confiscated their assets, businesses, homes and real estate 5-6 times the size of Israel – 120,000 sq. km. or 46,000 sq. miles which is valued in the trillions of dollars.
    Any Arab who is not happy to live under the Israeli government can move there.
    Study your history; Muhammed in 627 about 1,500 years ago beheaded 700 Jews in Medina which was a Jewish town in Saudi Arabia, he killed all the men took the women as slaves and raped their daughters. This is just the tip of history.
    Do you want more study the complete unbiased history objectively.
    YJ Draiman
    There was never an Arab-Palestinian State in Greater Israel and there will never be – face it.
    The Ottoman land records of Palestine confirm that the Arabs did not own land, the were sharecroppers. Over 90% of the land was owned by the government the balance was owned by absentee wealthy Arabs from Lebanon who sold it to the Jews at premium prices.
    It is time to implement population transfer for all the Arabs.
    who create violence, riot and attack Jews and anyone else. They could be relocated to the home and land of the million Jewish people, expelled from Arab countries or Jordan.
    YJ Draiman.

    Tell the White House official to return occupied Texas and other states to Mexico and the rest of the United States to the Indians.
    The Jews have a history with Israel going over 4,000 years. The Americans have only a few hundred years of occupation and deliberate destruction of the Indians.
    YJ Draiman.

    • Dav6

      The myth of Jews occupying Arab land: In 1856, under Ottoman rule, the Ottoman Empire promulgated the Land Registration Act whereby owners of property were required to register their land. Most Palestinian Arabs signed forms assigning their property to the Caliph of Istanbul or to some large landowners, knowing that they would otherwise have to pay taxes and see their sons being drafted into the Ottoman army. Jews ultimately purchased these properties from the landowners at extortional prices. No land was stolen from them by the zionists!!

  • rachel robinson

    Does anyone truly believes that if the Palestinians wanted to create their own State of Palestine anyone, even Israel would have succeeded in standing in its way? Obama is so delusional, he thinks that it is Bibi’s job or the Israeli Government’s job to create a Palestinians state? has anyone ever created a state for some people? Did England create a state for the Englishmen who settled in the New World? This is the most idiotic motion anyone could possibly come up with, and yet he repeats it every chance he gets, as if repeating a wrong idea enough times will make it a right idea. Only an idiot like Obama can say such stupidity and think that everybody agrees with him.

  • art

    obamas’ minimal goal was the imposition of the Saudi Plan, 67 borders, split Jerusalem, reparations to the pa, right of return. in effect, no Israel