What does the State Department’s Wendy Sherman do with her spare time when not negotiating weak nuclear deals with rogue regimes? The same as the rest of the Obama foreign-policy team: threaten Israel with diplomatic isolation at the United Nations. Sherman issued some thinly veiled threats yesterday in remarks to a gathering of Reform movement leaders in which she made clear that the administration expects the next Israeli government to do its bidding with respect to supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians. While there’s nothing new about this insistence, Sherman’s language followed the same pattern as other remarks issued by U.S. officials since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last month. But like all such warnings that have been aimed at Jerusalem from Washington, the most striking aspect of this effort is how divorced these American staffers are from the reality of a peace process that the Palestinians have no interest in pursuing.
Sherman, who holds the title of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, is best known for her work on nuclear non-proliferation in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. But her real claim to fame is as the person who naively gave away the store to the North Koreans that helped them get closer to a bomb in the 1990s and learned nothing from that experience before repeating the exercise in the last few years with Iran. She defended the Iran nuclear deal she helped negotiate and assured the Reform leaders that the pact would make Israel and the world safer. But that highly debatable conclusion is less newsworthy than Sherman’s effort to fire yet another shot over Netanyahu’s bow as he completed negotiations to form his next government.
According to the Times of Israel, Sherman warned that if the new government “is seen as stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution,” that “makes our job in the international arena that much tougher.” She went on to note that the U.S. had “repeatedly stood up against efforts to delegitimize Israel or single Israel out unfairly” and that this “would continue to be the case.” But then she added that Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the unlikelihood of a two-state solution happening had “raised questions” about the premise of U.S. support.
While Sherman’s remarks can be read in a sympathetic manner as being basically supportive of Israel—and there’s little doubt that her audience heard it that way—the message to Netanyahu was clear: any more wavering about his dedication to two-state negotiations and all bets are off in the United Nations.
But while Sherman is right when she says that most American Jews are as obsessed with willing a two-state solution into existence as the president and Secretary of State Kerry, Israelis take a different view of things.
Most of them would also like a two-state solution that would allow them to cease having responsibility for areas that are dominated by Palestinian Arabs. But unlike the Obama administration and its American Jewish cheering section on the left, the majority of Israeli voters have paid attention to events in the region in the last 20 years and know that they don’t have a viable Palestinian peace partner. It doesn’t matter whether most Israelis share the conviction that two states for two peoples is the best possible solution to the conflict. That happens to be the case, but Israelis also understood what Netanyahu was talking about the day before his stunning election victory when he said that creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank under current circumstances was an invitation to a new round of terrorist attacks on Israel.
Israelis remember what happened when their government withdrew every last soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. Instead of trading land for peace as they hoped (and as they had vainly attempted to do with the Oslo Accords), they wound up trading land for terror. Indeed, for all the talk about the necessity of creating a Palestinian state, what Israelis understand is that the Hamas-run strip is for all intents and purposes an independent Palestinian state. The notion of repeating this experiment in the far larger and more strategic West Bank strikes most Israelis, whether they voted for Likud and its allies or Netanyahu’s main opponents, the Labor-led Zionist Union, as nuts. A two-state solution wasn’t in the cards no matter who had won the Israeli election and it won’t be brought any closer or pushed off any further into the future no matter what Netanyahu says about the idea.
That’s been the basic problem with Obama administration Middle East policy since 2009. The president came into office obsessed with the notion that more distance between Israel and the United States would tempt the Palestinians to negotiate seriously. He’s gotten the distance he wanted and then some, but the Palestinians have never budged. They’re still refusing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has no real interest in being drawn into more talks where he’s faced with the choice of either saying no to peace (which he and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly done even when a Palestinian state was offered the by the Israelis) or agreeing to something his people won’t accept. Hamas, backed up by an Iranian ally that has been empowered and embraced by Obama, exercises an effective veto on peace even if Abbas were willing or capable of signing a deal.
But that doesn’t stop the president from sending Sherman to intimate that if the Israelis don’t bow to his dictates the U.S. will no longer veto resolutions recognizing Palestinian independence without first forcing them to make peace with Israel. Clearly, that’s the direction toward which the lame duck administration is moving despite the recent talk of a Jewish charm offensive intended to disarm criticism of the president’s clear animus against the Israeli government. In the absence of significant pushback from a Democratic Party that is still in thrall to Obama, we may find out in the next 23 months whether Obama is bluffing.