The Obama administration is looking for ways to save what the White House sees as a “dying” two-state solution. But Donald Trump’s election as president has reduced the president’s options to symbolic gestures.
Some in the administration have acknowledged that Israeli settlement activity on the ground has created a “de facto annexation” of the West Bank by Israel; others describe the atmosphere in the White House as “increased alarm.”
Obama’s options include taking no action and leaving the issue for his successor; supporting or abstaining from a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity; backing a U.N. resolution which will detail the parameters for achieving piece; or delivering a speech, either by Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry, in which the administration will lay out its view of the way forward.
The president has not made a decision, although Middle East staff members have been preparing for all the options. Insiders expect Obama to consult with president-elect Trump before he makes a decision, in order to ensure that Trump doesn’t overturn Obama’s move when he enters the White House.
Obama will be leaving the White House without succeeding in bringing Israelis and Palestinians any closer to a peace agreement. In fact, the administration believes situation on the ground has gotten worse, slipping gradually into an irreversible stagnation that will eliminate any prospect of a peaceful two-state solution.
Frustration within the administration is directed at both sides, but the Obama White House feels that Israel has been less responsive than the Palestinians in addressing complaints raised by America. The administration has been calling out the Palestinian Authority for promoting hate and incitement against Israel and it believes that many of these complaints had been addressed. At the same time, the administration believes Netanyahu has largely ignored calls to stop settlement expansion by the Israelis.
Lack of progress, the administration fears, could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and to a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. is concerned that if such a crisis occurs, the international community will not be as willing as in the past to provide financial relief, leaving Gaza residents with no outside source of support. Obama also fears that the conflict will spill over and threaten the stability of King Abdullah’s rule in neighboring Jordan.
Could a Trump presidency make things even worse?
The Obama administration doesn’t necessarily think so. Despite promises made by the Trump’s aides about relaxing America’s policy opposing settlement expansion, foreign policy professionals believe Trump will quickly realize the need to balance needs of Israel and neighboring Arab countries and will not seek to implement new policies that could destabilize the region.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman