The Washington Post published an in-depth article on “Where Obama failed on forging peace in the Middle East”, which I strongly recommend.
My analysis somewhat dovetails the article’s facts and insights:
1) When he ran for President, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s campaign juxtaposing against Republican evil, Obama was able to transcend deep partisanship and get people to feel there was a better way that was not “Us Vs Them” but “all of Us” for a better future; for some sad reason, Obama never realized he could translate that same vision to the Middle East; he saw it as a zero sum game – build credibility with the Arabs, at the expense of the Israelis; he declined to stop over Jerusalem after his Cairo speech; that was a huge mistake; he should have built credibility with the Arabs and reassured them about his vision AND also reassure Israelis and build credibility with them – employing the OneVoice language and framework;
2) President Obama made a major tactical mistake that turned into a strategic blunder of the highest geopolitical order: he demanded a freeze in the West Bank AND all of East Jerusalem, something that Netanyahu realized would not fly with the Israeli or Jewish constituencies, so Netanyahu made Jerusalem his battle cry and sought to create a wedge to undermine the US Administration’s position; he masterfully focused on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, not as occupied land, even though West Jerusalem where the capital is located was of course never at stake; Netanyahu put the entire spotlight on JERUSALEM; everyone forgot about the West Bank and the settlements that are clearly a problem for the vast majority of Israelis also; American Jewish opinion and Israeli opinion swerved assertively against the “anti-Jerusalem” demands; and Obama eventually retrenched; to this day the damage persists because now President Abbas cannot be less Palestinian that the US President was, and can’t demand anything less than Obama did. This misstep still resonates today. I was just in Israel and Palestine for meetings with several high level officials and this issue came up multiple times.
a. Most important, no US President should ask for something publicly prior to being certain that he can get it. It is like lawyers not asking questions at trial that they don’t already know the answer to!
3) Obama’s efforts focused solely on top-down government actions, rather than appealing to the People, and partnering with the People. Everyone keeps blaming political representatives for their lack of leadership. But we are mum about the responsibilities of the millions of Israeli and Palestinian – and international – citizens who want to end the conflict. We need to find a way to vest the people with the power and responsibility that they have. And then to unleash their goodwill in a concrete and constructive way. At the PeaceWorks Foundation we are working precisely on such a plan. So stand by!