President Obama is hosting face-to-face talks between the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian President. Listening to discussions of the President's speech last evening after an introductory dinner (that included the President of Egypt and the King of Jordan, the only Arab nations to have full relations with Israel), I heard quite a few commentators talk about how Obama was pushing hard because he sees himself as a "transformative figure". Quite beside whether those two words have any meaning, let alone how they specifically refer to Obama or Obama's view of himself, the President's approach is one I believe is long overdue.
It is really quite simple: Deal with the central issues between Israelis and Palestinians - the West Bank occupation; the status of Palestinian property confiscated after the founding of Israel in 1948; the status of Jerusalem - as well as secondary but no less important matters such as access to natural resources (most especially water) and the current blockade of Gaza.
Since, first, President Carter's successful peace negotiations between Pres. Sadat of Egypt and PM Monachem Begin of Israel in 1978, then the Oslo Accords, final agreement on these most basic and contentious issues has been postponed, although both peace processes saw themselves as constructing a framework within which larger, long-term issues and a final settlement of outstanding matters could be worked out. Both have been abandoned. The Camp David framework was rejected completely by the Reagan Administration when it came to power, leaving nothing in its place. The Oslo Accords became a tool used by Israeli hardliners to beat the late PM Yitzak Rabin with (he was assassinated by a hard-line Israeli during a peace rally), and was completely ignored by the Clinton Administration, in particular in Clinton's last-hour, personal push for a comprehensive accord in late 2000.
Rather than settle for nibbling at the edges, Obama's approach - stop dicking around and get serious - is a marvelous change. There is no way either of the parties involved can duck or hide, blame the other for failure to deal with the central bones of contention when that is all that is on the table.
On that note, let me say that one thing the Bush I Administration did that I have always admired, and wondered why it was never repeated, was carry out a threat of withholding foreign aid to Israel if it continued to build settlements on the West Bank (and, also, destroy Palestinian homes there to make room for the settlers). Then-PM Yitzak Shamir tried calling Bush's (and then Secretary of State James Baker) bluff. In a brief meeting at the White House in 1991, Bush told Rabin that the money tap was now "off". Rabin stormed out of the White House, and Washington and America, in a huff.
It is this kind of hard-line that needs to be taken. No more acrimony; no more airing of grievances, either current or ancient. The laundry list of charges and counter-charges is well-known, and recalling all of it does nothing to advance the process of negotiations. Obama is doing what Bush did, on a grander scale. He is going for the long bomb, precisely because, at this point, that is all that can be done. A final settlement will, in the end, be a boon for the two states, Israel and Palestine, as well as for the United States. No longer a running sore, the Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians will cease to function as a propaganda point.