Obama's Record on Israeli-Palestinian Peace

The President's Disquieting Silence

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, September 21, 2016. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama’s meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in late September renewed speculation about what, if anything, the president would do to advance the goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace before he leaves office. With just four months left in his term, and virtually no chance of resuming negotiations before then, the president is reportedly considering the option of laying out the basic parameters of a final status agreement, perhaps in the form of a UN Security Council resolution, as a way to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution under a future U.S. administration.

That Obama is now seen as the last, best hope for a two-state solution is deeply ironic given how little he has done to advance that goal in the nearly eight years since he took office. Not only has he failed to live up to the high expectations he set out at the start of his administration, Obama is on his way to becoming the first U.S. president in more than four decades to break no new political ground in terms of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, his legacy could well be the death of the two-state solution itself.


The first major shift in U.S. policy occurred during the administration of President Richard Nixon, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had also served under former President Gerald Ford, authorized the first political dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1973–74. Although short-lived, the secret channel was the earliest sign of U.S. policymakers’ grudging recognition that Palestinians would eventually have to play a role in the peace process. A few years later, President Jimmy Carter stunned both Israeli leaders and the Washington establishment by calling for the creation of a Palestinian “homeland,” the closest any U.S. president had ever come to acknowledging a Palestinian right to self-determination, although he ultimately failed to bring

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