The Middle East Channel

Did Netanyahu or Obama doom the two-state solution?

With his decision to oppose the U.N. General Assembly's granting Palestine non-member state observer status, U.S. President Barack Obama leaves no doubt he is not modifying his pre-election position that "There is no daylight between Israel and the United States," and that no matter how deeply Israeli behavior violates international norms and existing agreements, U.S. support for Israel remains "rock solid." This continuity of U.S. Middle East peace policy was promptly reinforced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she assured Israel that despite her condemnation of its decision to proceed with new construction in the E1 corridor of the West Bank that will doom the two-state solution, this administration will continue to "have Israel's back."

The decision confirms America's irrelevance not only to a possible resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict but to the emerging political architecture of the entire region, the shape and direction of which will increasingly be determined by popular Arab opinion, not autocratic regimes dependent on the United States for their survival.

The efforts promised by President Obama to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be seen universally for the empty and purposeless exercise they will be. To be taken seriously, a new U.S. peace initiative would have to begin with an insistence that Israel's government accept the pre-1967 border as the starting point of resumed negotiations. Without such a U.S. demand, backed by effective diplomatic pressure, the United States will have no right to ask Palestinians to return to negotiations that have no terms of reference, and therefore no prospect of producing anything other than cover for Israel's continuing predatory colonial behavior in the West Bank.

The administration's admonitions to the Palestinians that they find the political courage to return to negotiations with a government whose intention to prevent viable Palestinian statehood has been clearly and repeatedly demonstrated are singularly inappropriate. A U.S. administration that since the third year of its first term has been pandering to the Israel lobby by withdrawing its insistence that Israel's illegal settlements project must end, followed by a muting of its demand that resumed negotiations be framed by reasonable terms of reference, should exercise considerably greater restraint before presuming to preach to others on the subject of political courage.

Netanyahu's decision to proceed with massive new construction in the Jerusalem area and elsewhere in the Occupied Territories is not what doomed the two-state solution. It was always clear this is what he intended doing. What doomed the two-state solution was Obama's decision to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the veto over Palestinian statehood, which is exactly what he did when he and his representatives at the United Nations insisted that the only path to Palestinian statehood is through open-ended talks with the Netanyahu and Lieberman-led government.

Both formally and politically, the U.S. position is patently untrue. Formally, the right to self-determination by a majority population in previously mandated territories is a "peremptory norm" in international law. The U.N. Charter is clear that the implementation of that right is one of the primary purposes of the United Nations' establishment, and international courts have confirmed it is a right that overrides all conflicting treaties or agreements. The only reason the U.N. Security Council has failed in its clear responsibility to implement the Palestinian's right to self determination is this administration's veto.

Practically, it is true that given its overwhelming military power, and given the virtually uncritical support it receives from the United States in the exercise of that power, Israel's government can and will continue to block Palestinian statehood. But that is a reason not to subject the Palestinians' peremptory right to self-determination to an Israeli veto. Instead it is a reason to demand that the United Nations exercise the role assigned to it by its Charter. Israel's engagement with the Palestinians will cease to be the historic fraud it has been only when its government comes to believe that its continued stonewalling will lead to America's support for intervention by the Security Council.

Previous failures of the peace process continue to be dishonestly attributed by the United States and Middle East experts (particularly former "peace processors" who have left government for various think tanks) to "the absence of trust" between the parties. It is an explanation that serves as a convenient way of avoiding hard truths. If the lack of trust were in fact the reason for past failures, why have the years of endless negotiations not produced greater trust, but instead eroded what little trust existed to begin with. The Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas have discredited themselves with their Palestinian public because they have been too trustful of Netanyahu and his government, in effect collaborating with the illusion so successfully promoted by Israel that they are overseeing a transition to a two-state solution. 

The Palestinian people have known all along how utterly disingenuous was Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech of June 14, 2009 in which he pretended to accept the two-state goal. Not only was this possibility precluded by the facts that Netanyahu and his government were creating on the ground, but members of his cabinet were the founders and leaders of the "Whole Land of Israel" Knesset Caucus that was established officially for only one purpose: preventing a Palestinian state in any part of Palestine. At no point did that caucus provoke a murmur of protest from the United States or from the Quartet. Imagine their reaction -- or the reaction of the U.S. Congress, for that matter -- if President Abbas's cabinet members had established a "Whole Land of Palestine" Caucus within the Palestinian Authority.

The credibility of any new U.S. initiative that seeks to restore the possibility of a two-state outcome depends entirely on President Obama's willingness to identify the illegal "facts on the ground" unilaterally created by Israel in the West Bank as the fundamental obstacle to a two-state solution. To be sure, it is a solution that would now be difficult to achieve in the best of circumstances, but it is clearly entirely out of the question when the occupying power has made the prevention of such an outcome its overriding strategic goal.

There would be no better beginning for a change in U.S. Middle East policy than an unambiguous U.S. declaration of support of the Presidency Conclusions of the European Council of March 25 and 26, 2004 in which European leaders unanimously declared that "The European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties." Ironically, it is a position that was endorsed by -- of all people -- President George W. Bush.

Sadly, there is no reason to believe the Obama administration will do so, short of cataclysmic events in the region that threaten to damage U.S. vital interests so deeply as to offer him no choice. By then, however, the damage is likely to be irreparable -- not only to U.S. interests, but to Israel's continued survivability as a Jewish and democratic state.

Henry Siegman is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He also serves as a non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.


The Middle East Channel

The political crisis deepens between Egypt’s judges and President Morsi

The political crisis between Egypt's judges and President Mohamed Morsi worsens as the Judge's Club said on Sunday it will not supervise a December 15 referendum on a constitution draft passed by the Islamist dominated Constituent Assembly on Thursday. The decision, however, is not binding for individual judges. Additionally, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) said it will suspend its work indefinitely after about 2,000 pro-Morsi protesters blocked judges from reaching the SCC's building this weekend. The SCC was set to vote on the legality of the Egyptian parliament's upper house as well as the Constituent Assembly, after having dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood controlled lower house of parliament in June and the previous constitution drafting assembly. Meanwhile, at least 200,000 Morsi supporters rallied at Cairo University on Saturday, in efforts to counter protests in Tahrir Square against Morsi's November 22 presidential decree expanding executive powers.


Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Monday to discuss the escalating crisis in Syria as violence flares on the border. Relations between Turkey and Russia have been tense over contrasting views on how to deal with the 20-month conflict in Syria, particularly stoked in October when Turkey forced down a Syrian aircraft en route from Damascus to Russia on suspicions it carried military cargo. Additionally, Russia, a key ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has opposed a request by Turkey to install NATO patriot missiles along its border with Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hopes NATO will agree this week to stationing the missiles. The group is scheduled to meet in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday. Just hours before Putin's landmark visit, Turkey deployed F-16 fighter jets after two Syrian jet strikes along the border. Syrian warplanes have repeatedly bombarded the Syria town of Ras al-Ain, across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. Meanwhile, the Syrian military has recently moved some of its chemical weapons stores prompting repeated warnings from the United States and several allies against their use. Clinton warned that the United States is planning to take action in the event the Syria regime uses chemical weapons. Syria's foreign ministry responded saying, "Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people." Fighting has continued between Syrian forces and opposition fighters in the suburbs surrounding Damascus, and on the road linking the capital to its international airport.


  • Israel suffers international condemnation after announcing plans to build 3,000 new settlement homes in a move criticized for jeopardizing the Israeli and Palestinian peace process.
  • Kuwait's opposition is planning mass demonstrations against the election of a new parliament in polling that was largely boycotted on Saturday.
  • The United States has increased surveillance of Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor over heightened concerns over safety at the reactor.
  • Iraqi officials have reported security forces have arrested a top al Qaeda leader in Iraq believed to be Abu Bakr a-Baghdadi as well as a list of names and locations of other operatives.

Arguments and Analysis

An intolerable status quo in Bahrain (Elisa Massimino, Washington Post)

"During my 25 years as a lawyer and human rights advocate, I've been in many courtrooms in many places. But I've never seen anything quite like what I recently witnessed in Bahrain. I sat in on one of the hearings for the 28 medics being prosecuted after treating injured protesters during the democratic uprising last year.

In the chaotic courtroom, the judge dismissed arguments by defense lawyers that their clients had been tortured. That's when Nabeel Tammam, one of Bahrain's leading ear, nose and throat specialists, raised his hand and asked for permission to speak. Seemingly mistaking him for one of the defense lawyers, the judge acknowledged Tammam, who spoke the words he had not been allowed to say publicly before any Bahraini judicial authority since his detention in 2011: "My name is Nabeel Tammam. I am one of the medics, and I was tortured." Tammam described what he suffered at the hands of government officials; the judge quickly ended the hearing. "

Lights, Camera, Jihad: Al-Shabaab's Western Media Strategy (Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Shiraz Maher, James Sheehan, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and START)

"Al-Shabaab employs a sophisticated and diverse communications strategy aimed at influencing Muslims living in the West. This strategy is infused with culturally relevant material that resonates with members of the Somalia diaspora while also employing rhetoric from the global jihadist narrative, positioning Somalia as one front in a greater struggle between Islam and the West.

Omar Hammami's messaging in particular speaks directly to Western Muslims beyond the diaspora, and emphasises the global nature of the struggle. Through this messaging, Hammami highlights the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between being a Muslim and living in the West. To this end, he presents his audience with an ultimatum whereby in order to be a good Muslim they must choose a side - become a member of the ummah and make hijrah to the land of jihad, or risk falling into disbelief and going to hell. Moreover, Hammami's vision is expansive, looking beyond the local towards the globally inspired movements affiliated with al-Qaeda. The endgame is the establishment of a Caliphate. This is a significant development in the strategy and rhetoric of al-Shabaab."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey