And now he’s “engaging” the Syrian dictatorship. After a five-year diplomatic boycott, an American ambassador has just been dispatched to Damascus. Here, too, the message to dissidents is that they’re on their own.
In his desperation to produce some tangible achievement in the Middle East, Mr. Obama may be tempted to intensify his efforts to create a Palestinian state. If so, he’ll ensure the total failure of his Middle East policy.
The Israeli public doesn’t need to be convinced of the necessity of a Palestinian state. Most Israelis understand that ending the occupation is an existential necessity. Palestinian independence would extricate Israel from the demographic threat of a Palestinian majority, from the impossible dilemma of choosing between Israel’s two essential identities, as a Jewish and as a democratic state. A Palestinian state would ease Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation.
But Israelis know, too, that a premature Palestinian state would pose an existential threat. An unstable Palestine, headed by the corrupt one-party dictatorship of Mahmoud Abbas, would be vulnerable to a takeover by Hamas. Israelis will not consider a withdrawal from the West Bank at a time when Israel’s treaty with Egypt – so far, the only successful land-for-peace agreement – appears at risk.
The notion that the Palestinian problem is the root cause of Middle Eastern instability has been disproved by recent events. The crowds demonstrating in Cairo, Tunis, Sanaa and Amman aren’t protesting for Palestine but for themselves.
Mr. Obama has argued that containing Iran requires first neutralizing Arab resentment over the Palestinians. He has it backward. The precondition for a stable Palestine is a truly transformed Middle East, in which the Islamist revolution is contained. Mr. Obama needs to adopt a policy aimed at weakening the Islamists. Preventing a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt, along with undoing the gradual Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon, are his most urgent challenges. And this is the moment to actively support the suppressed Iranian dissident movement.
If Mr. Obama opts to pursue a Palestinian state as the key to healing the Middle East, America will continue to retreat, while Iran and its allies will continue to advance.
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