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The Obama Doctrine and the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

  • Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Robert Olson
Professor Emeritus
University of Kentucky
Middle East Analyst
 

 On 23 April Mahmud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), announced that it would unify with Hamas, the Palestinian entity in Gaza, with whom Israel has stated frequently that it would not negotiate as Hamas does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The announcement came just six days be-fore a framework for further negotiations was to be reached on 29 April. 
     The failure of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is notable because it likely will terminate further meaningful negotiations. The failure of negotiations also weakens one of the two most important announced objectives in the Middle East for the second term of the Obama administration. 
     Gary Sick, a scholar at Columbia University, has argued that Obama defined in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013 by announcing, in effect, the Obama Doctrine that “only two specific objectives in this region [Middle East] would occupy the last three years of his presidency: the Iran nuclear issue and Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
     Sick argues that the Obama Doctrine does not “define what kind of Middle East that it [US] would like to see.” There is no mention of liberty, democracy, free markets, human rights, or freedom of the seas. Furthermore, it does not commit the US “to the security of Israel or any other country in the region, only to defend them against direct external aggression.” The Obama Doctrine does support the free flow of oil. The doctrine does of course assert that a major objective of the Obama Doctrine is to protect the US against terrorist attacks that directly threaten the US. 
     Importantly, “the focus on development or use of WMD leaves unmentioned any concern about poten-tial nuclear weapons capacity, as opposed to actual possession.”  The latter point is perhaps the central issue in the current negotiations among the P5+1 (Britain, France, China, Russia, US and Germany) nego-tiations with Iran. It is the central concern of Israel.
     It may be surprising to some readers that it is the first objective; the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process has been announced as a failure before the Iranian nuclear issue. Indeed, this author would speculate that Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 which are scheduled to be completed by July 20, might well be successful enough to allow the parties involved to establish a further framework to allow negotiations to continue for another six months after the July 20, 2014 deadline despite Israel’s objections.
     Gary Sick goes so far as to opine, “The Obama Doctrine is a redefinition of U.S. policy that is minimalist, multilateral when possible, and unabashedly self-centered.”
     It is clear insofar as US foreign policies in the Middle East are concerned and especially regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict that the two main protagonists—Israel and Palestinians—have taken this “minimalist, multilateral when possible” doctrine under serious considerations in cancelling negotiations.
 In the case of the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza it means that the US will do little regard-ing their major demand to stop and roll back the  estimated 650,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank 350,000 of them on the east side of the barrier wall.
     It also means that the US will do little to prevent Israel’s complete annexation of area ‘C’ which com-prises 60 percent of the 2,200 sq mile  West Bank. During the last 20 years much of the Palestinian popu-lation in area ‘C’ has been expelled or migrated to areas ‘A’ and ‘B’. Area ‘B’ is controlled by both  PA and Israel security.  Area ‘A” under PA government is also largely under Israel’s security control. 
    On March, 2014 President Obama stated to Jeffrey Goldberg an American-Israeli journalist “If the Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, than our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
The PA and Hamas announcement on 23 April stating they will seek unification and Israel Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s retort, “The PA wants to negotiate with Hamas instead of Israel” means there will be no further meaningful negotiations.
    These two statements also mean that the US’s effective “management” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is greatly diminished. This development does not augur well for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as they face the powerful, well armed state of Israel bent on annexation of the West Bank. Its an-nexation will be supported by Israel’s powerful allies in the US congress, strong pro-Israel and pro-Jewish lobbies as well as the broad support from American cultural, religious, societal and educational institutions.  
    The management of the Israel-Palestinian conflict both by Israel and the US is certain to remain one of the most important issues in US-Israel relations in the coming decades. Israel’s increasing annexation of the West Bank means that it will have 2.6 million Palestinians under its domination, and another 1.8 mil-lion in Gaza, which Israel also dominates, for a total of 4.4 million. These numbers are in addition to the 1.8 million Palestinians in Israel itself bringing the total number of Palestinians under Israel direct or indirect  authority to 6.2 million.  It is estimated that the Jewish population of Israel is about 5.6 to 5.8 million. This means there is a lot of “management” in store for both Israel and the US in the coming decades.
    This suggests that it is unlikely that if the US continues to pursue a ”minimalist, multilateral when possible” foreign policy with regard to the Middle East that is will be very successful.

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