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Israel Checks Its Back, Obama Nowhere to Be Found

April 30, 2014

Remember when President Obama claimed in March 2012 that “I have Israel’s back”? That assertion has been belied by all the facts, including the last nine months of pressuring our ally Israel in peace negotiations rather than recognizing the Palestinians have demonstrated no interest in peace.

Nine Months Later, Another Failed Timeline

Nine months ago, on July 29, 2013, the State Department spokesman said the Israelis and Palestinians agreed “to engage in direct, final status negotiations for at least nine months.” Since then, Secretary of State Kerry has been publicly pressuring Israel to make concessions, such as releasing prisoners to a Palestinian Authority that has proven itself either unwilling or unable to restrain their terrorist activity. For his part, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party recently announced he would form a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas. Abbas could have chosen peace, instead he chose terrorism.

This should come as no surprise, given previous Democratic schedules for Middle East peace:

  • The Quartet (United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia) issued a statement in September 2011 saying “the objective of any negotiation is to reach an agreement within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012.” 
  • President Obama told the U.N. General Assembly in September 2010 “when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” 
  • Secretary of State Clinton said in August 2010 that the resolution of “all final status issues” was to be “completed within one year” from the time of that announcement.  
  • The 1998 Wye River Memorandum affixed a deadline of May 4, 1999, for “reaching an agreement” on “permanent status negotiations.” 
  • When President Clinton entered into the Middle East Peace Process in 1993, negotiations on final status issues were to begin in the late 1990s, under Article V of the Oslo Accords. 

Violating Past Agreements

To further demonstrate how little interest the Palestinians have in negotiating peace with the Israelis, this past month they signed letters of accession to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions as a United Nations Observer State. This follows the Palestinians’ action in 2011, when they sought recognition as a member state in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

This is explicitly prohibited by almost every agreement the Palestinians have made with Israel. Recognition of Palestinian statehood without the concurrence of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority would violate, at a minimum, the Oslo II Agreement, Wye River Memo, and Sharm el-Sheikh Memo, all of which prohibit either party from “chang[ing] the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” prior to the completion of permanent status negotiations. 

UNESCO granted statehood recognition to the Palestinians, triggering various statutory prohibitions on providing U.S. funds to an entity of the United Nations according a Palestinian entity the same standing as a member state. In every budget request he has made since then, President Obama has requested legislative authority to waive these restrictions and relieve UNESCO — and the Palestinians — from the consequences of their actions.

Congress Must Hold Obama to Current Law

Rather than viewing Israel as the impediment to Middle East peace, as President Obama and Secretary Kerry do, Congress places the blame squarely where it lies: with the Palestinians.

Section 7040 of the foreign affairs section of the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations act prohibits certain assistance to “any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member,” unless the President can certify that government “has publicly accepted and is complying with the principles” of 1) recognizing the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist, and 2) adhering to all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Given President Obama’s penchant for ignoring the law, Congress must be especially vigilant in ensuring that this restriction is implemented if the Palestinians form a government with the terrorist organization Hamas. Hamas certainly does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and the Palestinians’ gambit seeking statehood recognition at certain U.N. agencies violates agreements not to take such steps. President Obama has said in the past a unity-government agreement “between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel.” If past practice is any indicator, President Obama will not follow through on his language.

Given all of this history, it is difficult to put much value in President Obama’s claim “I have Israel’s back.” Instead of chasing a Middle East peace legacy by pressuring Israel, it is long past time for the Obama Administration to devote its attention to the myriad of other foreign policy challenges around the world.