You’re probably familiar with the old story about the inebriated guy looking for his wallet at night under a streetlight — not because that’s where he dropped it but because what would be the point of poking around in the dark? This, in essence, has been the American approach to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for years.
Over and over, the Israelis are asked to make concessions, to “take risks for peace.” Under pressure, they sometimes do. Reciprocal concessions are not demanded of Palestinian leaders because what would be the point of asking for what they can’t or won’t do? Hamas, which rules Gaza, rejects the very idea of peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state. Hamas’ openly stated goal is Israel’s annihilation. As for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he can’t set foot in Gaza and, on the West Bank, his support has grown so thin he couldn’t sign a peace agreement with Israel even if he wanted to — and it’s by no means clear he does.
Too many of us have short memories. In 2000 at Camp David, President Bill Clinton presented Israeli and Palestinian leaders with his “parameters” for a “two-state solution.” The Palestinians, Mr. Clinton would later write, were to receive “roughly 97 percent of the West Bank,” all of Gaza, as well as sections of east Jerusalem. The Israelis were to get “a formal end to the conflict.” This was not a baseline for further talks — this was as far as Mr. Clinton believed the Israelis could possibly go in exchange for a promise.
The Israelis accepted the deal. Then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not. Instead, he proceeded to ignite a wave of terrorist violence against Israelis that became known as the Second Intifada.
Five years later, another “land for peace” experiment was run: Israelis withdrew from Gaza, territory taken from Egypt — not from Palestinians — in the defensive war of 1967. Before long Hamas and Fatah, its rival, led by Mr. Abbas, were embroiled in a brutal civil war there. Hamas won. Instead of providing Gazans with peace and prosperity, Hamas began launching missiles into Israel and, more recently, digging terrorist tunnels under Israeli villages and farms. Today, Hamas collaborates with the Islamic State, which is waging jihad against Egypt in Sinai, land Israel also seized in 1967 but returned to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty.
This recent history is especially relevant now because President Obama is expected to refocus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the November elections, during his final days in office. He has reportedly asked the State Department to come up with a list of options. Among them: “Obama parameters” that would replace the Clinton parameters, measures to discourage and/or punish those who support Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines (which would give a boost to efforts to delegitimize Israel, notably the Boycott, Divest and Sanction, or BDS, campaign), and not vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would recognize a Palestinian state.
Such a state would almost certainly fail. It would comprise two territories, one ruled by a designated terrorist entity, one by an 81-year-old politician with health problems who dares not hold elections and has prepared no succession plan. Neither Gaza nor the West Bank has viable political and economic institutions. Also important if generally unmentioned: Without Israeli security cooperation, the West Bank would be susceptible to a Hamas takeover.
Or worse: Absent Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, what would prevent those waging a genocidal jihad in Syria from infiltrating and soon slitting throats and dumping bodies into mass graves? The security assistance Israel quietly provides the Palestinian Authority (and Jordan as well) is essential. Does Mr. Obama have an alternative in mind? U.N. peacekeepers, perhaps?
Speaking of which: The raw bigotry and unmitigated hostility of the U.N. and its agencies toward Israel makes that institution incapable of facilitating a successful peace process. If Mr. Obama hadn’t realized that in the past, it should have dawned on him last week when the executive board of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, passed a resolution designating the most important religious sites in Jerusalem as holy to Muslims only — denying their older Jewish (and, by implication, Christian) connections. Russia and China, both members of the U.N. Security Council, voted for the resolution.
A letter initiated by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and signed by 39 legislators, Republicans and Democrats, denounced the resolution as further evidence of the U.N.’s “obsessive hostility towards Israel.” UNESCO’s own director general, Irina Bokova, criticized the vote, saying: “Jerusalem is the sacred city of the three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site.” The State Department registered “deep concern.”
If Donald Trump should be elected president, Mr. Obama will do what he can to limit his policy choices on a range of issues. I get that. But if Hillary Clinton is the next occupant of the White House, he’ll be doing his former secretary of state an enormous disservice by tying her hands.
What’s more, the perception will be widespread that she agrees with Mr. Obama’s approach — or lacks the strength to dissuade him. Israelis will see her not as they saw Bill Clinton — an honest broker — but as the third term of a president who has helped make the Middle East a bloodier place and is all too eager to put their lives on the line in pursuit of the commodity he now seems to prize most: a legacy.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.