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US insolence exposed by futile Mideast talks

The Israeli-Arab Palestinian peace talks are unraveling and on the verge of collapse. This was all too predictable, as we warned in The Journal Gazette last July when the Obama administration was starting negotiations. We also described why restarting the peace process would ultimately backfire on America and Israel. It is instructive to examine why the predictions we made have, regretfully, come to fruition.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s peacemaking efforts have been described accurately by Washington Post editorial page editor Jackson Diehl as a “departure from reality” and by Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon as “messianic” and “obsessive.” At the root of the problem is the Obama administration’s inability to address reality as it exists rather than it wishes it to be; that is, it has failed to accept that while peaceful resolution of the conflict requires two willing parties, only one currently exists. There will be those who argue the talks failed because of Israeli intransigence on issues such as settlements in Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank). But this argument is simply a diversion, as the war against Israel began long before the existence of any settlements. Moreover, the settlements were never a key issue until President Barack Obama made them one.

In fact, the central issue fueling the conflict is – and has always been – the refusal of the Arab world to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, or any Jewish presence for that matter, in its midst. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, now in his 10th year of a four-year term, admitted as much last month when he refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, refused to give up the “right of return” (which would flood Israel with millions of hostile Arabs), and, perhaps most astonishingly, refused to commit to ending additional Palestinian demands even after a final peace deal was signed.

Abbas’ true intention regarding the Jewish presence in the land of Israel is clear in his insistence that all Jews be barred from living in Judea and Samaria, where they have resided continuously for thousands of years, once the Palestinian Authority gains control. Such intransigence and rejection of basic rights for the Jews should have led the Obama administration to publicly rebuke Abbas. But the one thing Abbas has always counted on is the West’s refusal to hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions, no matter how irresponsible or outrageous.

Abbas’ new strategy is to apply for membership in U.N.-related groups. This move clearly violates all previous signed agreements with Israel and the U.S. and essentially establishes a new way to delegitimize Israel. No doubt it will go unpunished as well.

As we predicted, though futile, the peace initiative has been very costly. Simply to get Abbas to come to the bargaining table, Obama strong-armed Israel into releasing nearly 100 Palestinian terrorists imprisoned for murder. This type of intimidating, bullying behavior has not gone unnoticed by Israel and other allies and is unbecoming of the U.S. The move was particularly agonizing for Israelis, who saw the freed prisoners being greeted as heroes on Palestinian television. As for the Obama administration, its credibility as a clear-sighted and sober-minded leadership that works to promote its and its allies’ best interests has taken a further pummeling.

Finally, the hours the administration has spent ineffectually chasing the windmill of peace talks has led it to neglect the greatest threat facing the Mideast and free world – an emerging nuclear Iran. Some may point to the current U.S. negotiations with Iran as proof that this is not the case, but the talks have done nothing but allow Iran more time to arm itself and shake off punishing sanctions while delaying its nuclear capabilities by at most a few weeks. We were right about the peace talks. We cannot afford to be right on Iran.

Elliot Bartky (left) is president and Allon Friedman is vice president of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana. They wrote this for The Journal Gazette.