Will Obama set Mideast guidelines for next president?

US sources claim that President Barack Obama is considering a presidential speech to set guiding principles on a two-state solution for the next administration.

al-monitor US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Nov. 9, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.
Uri Savir

Uri Savir

@Uri_Savir

Thèmes

us presidential elections, us influence, us elections, two-state solution, palestinian-israeli peace process, israeli-palestinian conflict, barack obama

août 7, 2016

While Americans and the world at large are captivated by the fierce US election campaign, many international eyes are also set on Washington for potential movement on the stalled Middle East peace process. There will be two key periods this fall: The annual gathering of the UN General Assembly will take place in September, and in November, just after the presidential elections, President Barack Obama may be more free to make a policy move on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The Palestinians hope Obama will not leave office without setting a US policy platform for the next president along the lines of the proposed framework by Secretary of State John Kerry in the spring of 2015. Kerry's proposal included a future border on the basis of the 1967 lines and the promotion of East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

According to a senior PLO official, the State Department informed Ramallah that a formal declaration on US Middle East policies and interests — possibly by Obama — is indeed being contemplated, but certainly not for November.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be in New York in September to meet with Kerry and promote a UN Security Council resolution with the Arab League on Palestinian statehood along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as capital and with a binding time line of 2-3 years for implementation. The Palestinian leadership has little hope that such a proposal will be adopted, but believes that the attempt will exert pressure on Washington to issue a more balanced and less pro-Israel declaration.

A senior US diplomat in Tel Aviv told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that it is an interest of the outgoing Obama administration to set guiding principles on a two-state solution. While the president is very much involved in the presidential election campaign, it is likely that he will make a policy speech on the matter in the months to come. The United States, he noted, is not interested in a Security Council resolution and if one is raised by others, Obama is likely to veto it.

The US diplomat outlined several of the administration’s considerations in making such a policy statement. He started by making it clear that in Washington's opinion, the two parties have failed to make the necessary decisions for a historic compromise. The United States objects to Israel’s settlement policies and the incitement of violence by officials in the Palestinian Authority.

The diplomat noted that to avoid a diplomatic vacuum, Washington is interested in publicly spelling out guidelines for a two-state solution that will reflect the positions it raised in its most recent diplomatic efforts.

According to the source, the Americans' primary interest in the region is Israel’s security. Therefore, Washington has decided to conclude a comprehensive security agreement on US assistance to Israel for the next 10 years. In parallel, the United States is interested in fostering the regional anti-Islamic State coalition with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others, and it estimates that setting a policy platform on a two-state solution would be also helpful for regional security.

Washington, he said, wants to strengthen Abbas’ Fatah regime and hopes that guidelines on Palestinian statehood, balanced by US positions on Israel’s security interests, will increase public support for Abbas.

The US diplomat outlined in broad terms the content of the contemplated policy declaration. He said that it will include the necessity of a two-state solution to both parties  freedom to the Palestinians, security for Israel; a border based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps; an indication in general terms of a Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem area; resettling West Bank settlers within a few settlement blocs; resolving the Palestinian refugee problem in a just and mutually agreed-upon manner (as indicated in the 2002 Arab peace Initiative); mutual recognition between two nation-states (meaning recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people); and security arrangements along the plan proposed by Gen. John Allen in early 2015, with an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.

The diplomat said that the policy declaration would also include essential regional elements such as anti-terror cooperation and normalization of relations between the Arab states and Israel along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative. He said that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia should play an active role in reaching the permanent status agreement based on common interests with the United States and Israel against Islamic fundamentalism.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the prime minister’s office is making efforts to prevent such a presidential statement and that in any case, a declaration by a “lame duck” president had no value.

Nevertheless, a presidential declaration of guiding principles for a two-state solution is important  not only as a future policy platform for the next administration, but for the sake of maintaining relative stability until the next president develops a Middle Eastern strategy and team.

The current Washington administration should take into consideration the absolute need to leave the two-state option alive, given Israel’s settlement expansion policies. 

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