Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

November 10, 2009

An Arab ally begins to doubt Obama

Filed under: Israeli settlements,Washington's diplomacy,West Bank — Carlton Cobb @ 11:12 pm

On Sunday our delegation met with Bishr Khasawneh, the chief of staff of the Foreign Ministry in Jordan. It is clear from what he told us that Jordan, a U.S. ally and one of the so-called Arab moderates, is beginning to worry about recent changes in President Barack Obama’s policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Khasawneh argued that the president had started his first year in office on particularly strong footing. Obama signaled his commitment to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict by naming George Mitchell as his envoy for Middle East peace within 24 hours of taking office. He also made speeches, in Turkey and Cairo, that emphasized two points that Bush administration policy had ignored: 1) the critical importance of implementing a two-state solution and 2) the regional context of the conflict.

The need for a change in American policy is overdue, he said, after “good faith and confidence have eroded over eight years of stagnation” in the peace process. The Arab side has demonstrated its willingness to make peace with Israel and give it the legitimacy it deserves, by continuing to support the Arab Peace Initiative for the last seven of those years. Even after the Gaza war had such a deep, negative psychological impact on the region, all 22 Arab states and 57 Muslim states kept it on the table at the Doha summit in March. The time is ripe for American leadership.

Khasawneh said that the Obama administration had chosen the right issue, settlements, on which to challenge Israel and move the process forward. Jewish settlements, he said, had made the Palestinian portions of the West Bank into “isolated cantons.” Allowing their continued expansion while pressing for negotiations made no sense. Gesturing to the cup of coffee on the table, he argued that one person cannot negotiate with another over dividing a cup of coffee while one person continues to drink from the cup.

The new Obama position seems to be to push for final status talks despite allowing Israel to continue building settlements. Khasawneh argued that the administration appears ready to include enough loopholes in the proposed settlement “freeze” as to make the agreement meaningless. Israel is fighting with the U.S. over which loopholes should be included, as though the freeze is a negotiable concession to the Palestinians. Instead, Khasawneh argued, Israel should agree to implement a settlement freeze as a way of finally giving a positive response to the Arab Peace Initiative.

The key for Obama is to regain the momentum that he helped generate in the beginning of his first year by continuing to demonstrate his leadership on the settlement issue and breaking with the policies of his predecessor. Khasawneh suggested he can do that by promoting the Arab Peace Initiative as one basis for negotiations and by refusing to allow settlement expansion to continue at the same time that he calls for final status negotiations.



  1. I don’t suppose it would occur to anyone that if “all 22 Arab states and 57 Muslim states kept it [Arab Peace Initiative] on the table” that maybe that’s an indication that maybe it’s not such a good thing for Israel? If there were any semblance of “fair” to Israel in the initiative, surely there would be some dissent among those 22 Arab and 57 Muslim states? The fact that there isn’t should raise the question that maybe there isn’t anything in it for Israel.

    Comment by David — November 11, 2009 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  2. Here is an opinion column about Obama and Arab hopes by Asharq al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tariq alHomayed.

    I don’t agree with everything the man says, but he does make some points that are worth considering.

    “The construction of settlements will not be solved until after peace is reached, in the same manner that the Yamit settlement was removed after the Israeli – Egyptian peace.”

    Had Egypt refused to negotiate with Israel because of Yamit, this would have prevented the signing of the treaty that caused Israel to withdraw from Sinai and give up Yamit.

    @David – The “Arab Peace Initiative” is not a peace initiative. It is an ultimatum that gives Israel the choice between suicide and eternal war. The initial Saudi idea was general and flexible enough that it might actually have worked. But in the interest of achieving consensus, the Saudis allowed the Syrians to add a poison pill that makes it absolutely impossible for Israel to accept the thing without modification.

    Unfortunately – showing that it is an ultimatum and not a platform for negotiations – even the Saudis reject any deviation from the specific text of their PR “accomplishment.” That’s too bad; this “initiative” has had the effect of freezing Arab countries out of meaningful diplomacy to resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

    This “initiative” is a favorite of those who like to justify the broken status quo and blame Israel for the current situation rather than doing the hard, risky work of trying to solve messy, emotional problems. People who seek solutions that will lead to peace and justice in the real world will need to look elsewhere.

    Comment by Howard — November 12, 2009 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  3. […] Carlton continues his latest tour of Middle Eastern capitals.  When we last heard from him, he was in Syria. He just posted this entry from Jordan at Fair Policy, Fair Discussion… […]

    Pingback by Brains Like a Shoe » An Arab ally begins to doubt Obama — November 13, 2009 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

  4. Patriotic Americans should doubt the US government as well as the loyalties of Jewish Zionist Americans: Islamophobia: The Zionism of Fools.

    Comment by Joachim Martillo — November 15, 2009 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

  5. The Arab Peace Initiative is hardly more than a repetition of basic principles of international law and agreements that Israel signed long ago. Agreements that were then rightly understood as highly favorable to Israel.

    That all the Arab states and the Palestinians agree with it is cause for celebration among sane Israelis, who understand it means Israel won (if only it were sane enough to realize it). The Arabs completely give up and completely accept Israel. What is remarkable about the conflict – in addition to how easy it is to solve, by accepting something like the Arab Peace initiative, is how much acceptance Israel has among the Arab states and its Palestinian victims, how much they have implicitly accepted its narrative – a real difference from other colonial situations.
    But repudiation of the initiative, the utterly psychotic idea that it is an ultimatum, the idea that peace and the Arab initiative – very, very obviously the only way that Israel can survive in the long term, is suicidal and has some mysterious invisible poison pill seems to be the order of the day in Israel and for the foreseeable future.

    I don’t know why Einstein was ever in any doubt that human stupidity was infinite.

    Comment by J K — November 16, 2009 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

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