President Barack Obama’s first official visit to Israel-Palestine, made from March 20 to 22, has only confirmed the inability of the United States government to make any significant contribution to the achievement of a fair and just peace in the region. Indeed, the very tone of Mr. Obama’s respective talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shows the stark difference in Washington’s public attitude towards the two sides. Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi”, 10 times in half an hour, and in all his speeches to Jewish Israelis he used Hebrew phrases, but in Ramallah he used only one Arabic word, the greeting “marhaba”, and referred to his host only as “President Abbas.” He told Israelis that Jewish settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished, but he made only mild criticisms of Israel’s illegal and expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the settlements are “counterproductive to the cause of peace.” Yet he told Mr. Abbas, whom he met under near-curfew conditions, that the Palestinians must drop their objection to the settlers’ encroachments; he also called the settlements a “mere irritant.” A marginally more optimistic note lies in the speech Mr. Obama made to a vetted audience of young Jewish Israelis, in which he said the only way Israel can endure is “through the realisation of an independent and viable Palestine”.
Above all, the President offered no practical detail for ways ahead, and he made yet more concessions to hardline Israelis. For example, if the Palestinians drop their demand for a freeze on settlements — even Washington accepts that the settlements are illegal — the very possibility of a two-state solution based on Israel’s1967 borders vanishes. Secondly, in addressing young people Mr. Obama may have been trying to get round the utterly intransigent Mr. Netanyahu, but he still said Israel will be “a Jewish state” with the “unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world.” Going further, he also demanded that the Palestinian authorities, who have already recognised Israel as a state, must now also recognise it as a Jewish state, something they will not do because Israel is home to a large number of non-Jewish citizens. Mr. Obama’s problem is that he was in effect talking not to Jewish Israelis or to Palestinians, but to Republican and other pro-Zionist factions in the U.S., who have been consistently abusive towards him on almost every issue, especially Israel-Palestine. It suits Israeli hardliners perfectly that one of the most tormented regions in the world is no more than a pawn in U.S. domestic politics.