“Peace is hard”—this was the theme of President Obama’s speech September 21 at the U.N. General Assembly. The Obama Doctrine emphasizes the use of international treaties and organizations, soft power, modest attitudes in state-to-state relations, and a restrained America. As the Palestinian Authority requests U.N. membership, the failure of the President’s approach puts the strategic interests of the United States at risk, as well as those of Israel, the most important U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The push for unilateral statehood at the U.N. not only violates Palestinian agreements with Israel, but also its agreements with the United States. Specifically, the drive for unilateral statehood at the U.N. rather than through negotiations with Israel violates the Oslo accords that bar unilateral moves to change the status of the West Bank/Gaza.
These agreements are critical, because if Palestine is prematurely recognized as a sovereign state, then the Palestinians will be encouraged to believe they do not need to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. Palestine would be tempted to exploit its enhanced status at the U.N. to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, isolate the Jewish state, and inflame public opinion in the Middle East. This would poison Israeli–Palestinian relations and make genuine peace much harder to achieve in the future.
Hamas presents another major hurdle. It is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. but still controls the Gaza Strip. It certainly is not in America’s interest to set a precedent of letting terrorist groups gain legitimate governmental status.
Frankly, the White House has no one to blame but itself for the current state of affairs. According to John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., “[h]ad the White House exerted leadership at the outset, the [Palestinian Authority] could have been dissuaded well before now, at little or no cost to it or the United States.”
Instead, a year ago the President sent mixed signals to the Palestinians by calling for an independent Palestine within a year, and he distanced America from the traditional U.S.–Israeli alliance. The President admitted in his speech Wednesday that international organizations like the U.N. cannot be relied upon to impose peace:
[G]enuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves…. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.—if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now…. Ultimately, it is Israelis and Palestinians—not us [meaning the world’s other nations]—who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and security; or refugees and Jerusalem.
The threat posed by the Palestinian statehood issue to U.S. interests forced the President to overcome his inclination to work through international organizations and threaten to use America’s veto in the Security Council to block Palestine’s bid for U.N. membership. But this isolated and belated decision does not seem to indicate a fundamentally new direction. It is evident that the Administration is preparing to double down on the Obama Doctrine by yielding leadership to the U.N. on other matters, such as dealing with the murderous Syrian regime and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
As the flaws of the Obama Doctrine become more evident and threats grow, we will see more crises. Engagement with international organizations is no substitute for United States leadership.
Jackson Marsteller is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm