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Thursday, July 28, 2016
Obama's Exit Calculus On The Peace Process
By Sarah Yerkes*
US President Obama with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu
As the Republican and Democratic
parties convene in Cleveland and Philadelphia, we expect to see numerous signs
of the deepening polarization that has dominated this campaign season. One
issue that has traditionally shared bipartisan support is how the United States
should approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, this year both
parties have shifted their positions farther from the center and from pastDemocraticandRepublicanplatforms. This swing impacts whether
the Obama administration, which has devoted significant time and resources to
the negotiations, will issue a parting statement on the conflict.
In Cleveland last week the Republican partyadopted a platformentirely dropping the two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a move that puts the party
further to the right than eitherAIPACorIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu. The platform states, “We reject the false notion that
Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment,
and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy
Israel.” This language, combined with Republican nominee Donald Trump’s
apparent disinterest in the conflict, makes it unlikely a Trump administration
would prioritize Israeli-Palestinian issues or make any serious attempt at
Conversely, this year’sDemocratic Party platformreaffirmed the United States
government’s long-standing commitment to seeking a two-state solution in the
region. But the party took a notably progressive turn, highlighting both the
importance of Israel’s Jewish and democratic future and Palestinian freedom “to
govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.” Thecontentious fight over the
Democratic Party language, combined with Democratic nominee Hillary
Clinton’s (and her potential First Gentleman’s) passion for this issue reveals
an intent by a future Clinton administration to reinvigorate negotiations.
Likely to drive the administration’s calculus are the Democratic
and Republican nominees and their political motives on the U.S. led peace
process. The time to watch for a potential move, therefore, is between November
and January. Given the administration’s support for its own party’s nominee, it
is in Obama’s interest to keep the peace process on life support—but without
resuscitating it—through January. Publicly, but somewhat unenthusiastically,
supporting the various international initiatives and allowing other states and
international organizations to sit in the driver’s seat sets a future Democratic
administration up with the best chance of success.
Lessons from getting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the
table over the years include the wisdom to refrain from yelling about past
progress in negotiations. Publicly revealing how far Netanyahu and Abbas were
willing to go in 2014 would only harm the next administration’s efforts at
resuming negotiations. Keeping the “Kerry Framework” in the administration’s
pocket allows a Clinton administration to take ownership of the peace process
should she be elected.
Alternatively, if Trump is elected, the Obama administration
would have nothing to lose in revealing the fruits of its efforts in 2013-14.
The administration would have little concern for derailing a possible Trump
attempt (which is not likely to take place in any event) and could determine
that releasing some sort of Obama or Kerry Parameters would shed a positive
light on the administration’s legacy. Furthermore, should the Republican Party
win the White House, neither Obama nor Kerry is likely to care about the damage
that releasing such a document might do to either Netanyahu or Abbas.
The party conventions have solidified the deep divides—both
between and within the parties—regarding the U.S. approach to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict this campaign season. This divide, combined with a
renewed international focus on the conflict, virtually guarantees that the
administration will keep the conflict on the back burner before November. The
election, therefore, will not only determine our next president but also the
fate of the “Obama/Kerry Parameters”.
· * Note:
Ariella Plachta, an intern with the Center for Middle East Policy, contributed
to this post.
· * Sarah Yerkes is a visiting fellow in
theCenter for Middle East Policyand a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs
fellow. She is a former member of the State Department’s policy planning staff,
where she focused on North Africa. Previously, she was a foreign affairs
officer in the State’s Department’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs.