2. What place for the peace process?
Obama bucked the pattern in American diplomacy by making the conclusion of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, with establishment of a state of Palestine, a priority from the outset of his presidency, rather than waiting until the end of the term, as other presidents had done.
But what started out as a can-do endeavor by a young administration soon bogged down in recriminations as Obama sought an extension of a freeze on Israeli settlement construction – and Israel answered by approving settlement expansion in the West Bank and new housing construction in Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Obama tried again in May 2011, saying negotiations should be relaunched on the basis of Israel’s 1967 borders (with mutual land swaps), but that initiative went nowhere – other than deepening tensions between Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.
Those tensions were soon matched by rough waters between Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who tried to do an end run around the moribund US-brokered peace process by seeking recognition of the state of Palestine in the United Nations Security Council. The move failed, but it also embarrassed Obama by forcing him to stand before the world and say “no” to something – the state of Palestine – that he was on record as supporting.
Romney says Obama brought the “disaster” of the Palestinians’ UN action on himself by not standing firm all along with “America’s best friend in the Middle East.” At a Republican presidential debate on Sept. 26, 2011, he famously tarred Obama with “repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus.”
In the “what I would do differently” column, Romney suggests he would be much more prone to threaten a cutoff of US aid to the Palestinians if they did not meet US demands – for example, that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Romney adviser John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN under George W. Bush, suggests a President Romney would use US leverage to force the Palestinians to drop their conditions for restarting talks (such as a freeze on settlement construction) and reach a peace deal with Israel.