Cliff May
President Obama has now made two speeches on the Middle East in quick succession -- speeches characterized by soaring rhetoric and glaring inconsistencies. To take but one example of the latter, on Sunday the President said: "Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist." He was referring to Hamas, which not only refuses to recognize Israel but is openly committed to her extermination. Hamas recently announced it was merging with Fatah, considered a more moderate Palestinian faction.

In the same speech, Obama said that "the march to isolate Israel internationally — and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative."

But how can Israelis set in motion a "credible peace process" if their only possible negotiating partners are Palestinians with whom "Israel cannot be expected to negotiate"? The President is too smart not to perceive the sharp contradiction between these two statements.

He’s also too smart not to see this: Isolating Israel internationally has long been a goal shared by all Palestinian leaders. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads Fatah, has found that abandoning negotiations actually has helped him advance toward that goal.

Abbas has not been penalized or even harshly criticized for refusing to negotiate with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the contrary, European leaders, along with most of the media, prefer not to mention it. They either lament "the breakdown" of the dialogue -- as though it were a car that had stalled -- or they place the blame on Israel: If only Netanyahu were more dovish! If only he would offer more concessions, surely Abbas would return to the table and begin that "credible peace process" everyone wants! And that is what everyone wants, isn’t it?

There’s reason for doubt. Back in 1973, Abba Ebban, the eloquent Israeli diplomat, famously said: "The Arabs never miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity." That begs an essential question: What opportunity are they missing? What is it that Arabs – not least Palestinian Arabs – want but have not obtained when they have had the chance?

The usual answer is the opportunity to create a Palestinian state and live in peace. We can’t imagine anyone wanting something different. That may reflect a failure of our imaginations.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.