Preconditions Revisted

5 02 2008

According to Haaretz, the premier Israeli newspaper, Barack Obama not only supports Israel’s right to exist, but also stated his opposition to negotiate with Hamas, which the State Department and Israel says is a terrorist group, unless it renounces violence. No surprises there since that’s the standard line of most presidential hopefuls. But I thought this section of the Haaretz article was fairly revealing.

With regard to his policy on Israel, Obama repeated his established position, which has already been distorted into countless different versions.

Obama believes in Israel “as a Jewish state.” He does not accept that a right of return for Palestinians can be interpreted “in any literal way.”

He opposes talks with Hamas as long as the Islamist organization refuses to recognize Israel.

And yes – he believes in a two state solution for two nations, but only as long as Israel has “security” that the Palestinians will not only sign a final agreement, but also actualize it.

“He opposes talks with Hamas as long as the Islamist organization refuses to recognize Israel.” I wonder if this qualifies as a precondition? If so, does this mean that Obama is going back on his promise to be willing to meet with certain leaders without precondition.

Why is this important? For those of you who had better things to do than to watch the CNN/YouTube Democratic debates in July, Sen. Obama asserted that he would be willing to meet with the Ahmadinejad’s, the Castros, and the Chavez’s of the world without preconditions. He argued the U.S. must be willing to meet with its allies and its foes. Senator Clinton said she would not because she did not want such meetings to be used for propaganda purposes and then dismissed Obama’s position as dangerously naive.

Soon after the debate they traded barbs in the press for several weeks. The Obama campaign strategically used that opportunity draw a clear distinction between Madame Inevitable and the Chicago Hope Peddler while portraying Clinton as a Bush-Cheney hawk.

But substantively speaking, Obama was adamant about his commitment to at least being willing to meet such leaders. In fact, Obama continues to emphasize this point by invoking President Kennedy’s famous maxim “we will never negotiate out of fear, but we will never fear to negotiate” whether on the stump or at the debates.

Now if Haaretz has described Obama position accurately, at the very least it does imply that he is willing to meet with some people and not with others. But if it all depends on the situation and the actors in involved, then by what standard does Obama decided who he is or is not willing to meet with? I suppose this is where delicate dance of diplomacy leads us to a precondition quagmire of sorts.

In fairness, the president of the Palestinian Authority is Mahmood Abbas (Abu Mazen) and leader of Fatah, a rival party of Hamas. But virtually any “settlement,” “peace talks,” or “negotiations” will likely include Hamas, considering they control the PA’s legislature. In other words, whether the U.S. or Obama in particular likes it or not, they were democratically elected by the Palestinian people and will factor into any future “road map” to peace.

My intention is not to pick on Obama per se, but instead to highlight a real hard set of choices that would likely confront any president. Perhaps, some will accuse Obama of pandering to the so-called Israel lobby. But the cynics would be ignoring a more fundamental question concerning U.S. diplomatic posture that may need a bit more probing before November whoever the nominees are.

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One response

5 02 2008
Edmund

Remember, its not a democracy unless the US likes who won.
Iran is a functioning democracy, yet we call the leader a dictator (who just happens to face re-election soon) and the US degrades the Palestinians when they actually vote. Hamas will have to be recognized as a political party for there to be any results. The US and Israel may not like what happened, but they are the ones who asked for democracy.

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