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The Future of an Illusion

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
April 5--April 12, 2010
Weekly Standard

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned, it seems, to direct the Middle East policy of the Obama administration.

Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three American presidents and six Israeli prime ministers have taught five clear lessons. Each of them is being ignored by President Obama, which is why his own particular "peace process" has so greatly harmed real efforts at peace. Today the only factor uniting Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab leaders is distrust of the quality, sagacity, and reliability of American leadership in the region.

The patching-up efforts of the last two weeks were impressive, but perversely: They showed how much damage had been done and how little the administration cares about reversing it. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against whom Obama was said to be "boiling with rage" after the Jerusalem housing announcement, got the complete slate of Washington meetings: Clinton, Gates, Biden, Obama. But the meetings were virtually secret: The White House did not permit a single photo to be taken of the Oval Office session, an unprecedented snub. Same at State: no ceremony, no press conference.

For her part, Secretary Clinton told the giant AIPAC meeting, "Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don't agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally." Several recent Palestinian actions, she said, were "provocations" that are "wrong and must be condemned." That was nice, but saying it to a Jewish audience in a kiss-and-make-up session in Washington fools no one, not after her famous 43-minute telephone call to Netanyahu. These "provocations .  .  . that must be condemned" (note the passive voice) did not after all elicit a timely call to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas condemning them, nor did she use the Quartet meeting in Moscow on March 19 for that purpose. And general administration protestations that the United States is committed to Israel's security and that relations are "rock solid" now carry little persuasive power; they sound like Obama's (and for that matter Clinton's) campaign rhetoric, and everyone knows how useful a guide to administration policy all of that proved to be.

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