During the course of the Obama administration I've been somewhat reluctantly been inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My argument has been that Israel is so hopeless that no solution of the conflict is possible, short of a sustained U.S. policy that denied the country any diplomatic, economic, or military support unless and until it agreed to a fair two-statement settlement with the Palestinians.
If that was Obama's reasoning, he might well have decided that since he had no chance of getting Congressional support for such a draconic change in U.S. policies, and no hope of a settlement without such a change, it would be foolish to push Israel at all, since it would only antagonize Democratic congressmen whose support he needed to enact his domestic program. If so, he could well end up with the worst of both worlds: no domestic program and no Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
If that had been Obama's logic, however, it would have been better for him to have simply dropped out of the diplomatic process, perhaps with the usual excuses-- "We can't want a settlement more than the parties to the conflict, so it's up to them to work it out," and the like. Instead, he seems to be incapable of preventing himself from going from one travesty to the next. He makes just enough interesting speeches (i.e. Cairo), appears ready to make some interesting appointments (i.e. Freeman), only to beat humiliating retreats, time after time after time, when the perfectly predictable reactions occur.
The latest is the incredible administration proposal that practically begs Netanyahu to make the most meaningless gestures to the Palestinians, in return for yet more unconditional U.S. support of Israel--as described in some detail in a story by Barak Ravid in this morning's Haaretz.
What can Obama be thinking? I fear I am being reluctantly drawn to the conclusion that he is simply incompetent, unable to prevent himself from being made a fool of by the likes of Dennis Ross--who is said to have drafted the letter--and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking of Ross, anyone who has been following US policies in the Israeli-Palestinian should that the man is a catastrophe, not just "Israel's lawyer," in Aaron Miller’s famous characterization, but a crazed narcissist. That is what explains why, after Netanyahu apparently rejected even Obama's abject surrender, "Ross was very insulted by Netanyahu's conduct and considered it 'treason.'" (Ravid).
Unless you happened to remember Ross's memoirs about the Clinton administration (The Missing Peace), that might seem quite puzzling: "treason" to who? Well, not such a great mystery. During the Camp David negotiations, Ross tell us that he told the Palestinian delegation: “You know that I understand your problems, your needs, and your aspirations very well. You know that often I explain them better than any of you do” (p. 755).
At the same time, Ross sometimes seemed to regard the Israelis as spokesmen for him, who needed rebuking when they strayed from the correct path: after telling the Palestinians that he was “quite certain” that the Israelis would not accept anything less than a 7% annexation of the West Bank, he learned that the Israelis were considering 5%: “I was furious. What was the point of my conveying a tough posture on issues of supposed principle to the Israeli side if they were simply going to undercut me?” (pp. 748-49).
So now we know: Treason to Dennis Ross. And this is who Obama entrusts his Israeli-Palestinian policies?