The Obama Doctrine on Israel

It was reported earlier this week that if a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is reached, John Kerry expects Israel to retain 85% of the major settlement blocs. I would encourage everyone to read this article written by Elliot Abrams, the former deputy national security adviser for George Bush where he was in charge of coordinating American policy on the Middle East.

In this article, aside from stating that America agreed to support Israel building new housing units in the settlement blocs, something Obama has ignored since day one, Abrams discusses the letters exchanged between George Bush and Ariel Sharon and the American policy initiative of recognizing that Israel would retain its major settlement blocs in any future negotiation. The Clinton administration also implicitly supported this notion. It is only now (not really in 2013, but in 2009) that the Obama administration has abandoned this concept.

In December 2000 when Bill Clinton presented his vision of how the conflict should be resolved (as known now as the Clinton parameters), Israel would retain all of its major settlement blocs. Another example of this implicit approval would be the strong American support for Ehud Olmert’s proposal that also encompassed all of the major settlement blocs in 2008.

When one speaks about an agreement that consists of “most” of the settlement blocs (or in this case, 85%), they are speaking of the same parameters of the Geneva Initiative. This map can be seen here:

In light of this, it becomes pretty clear that the rough outlines of the negotiations as supported by the Americans are:

A 1 to 1 landswap consisting of 3% of the land east of the Green line

A division of Jerusalem based on ethnic lines

The old city being under international control/sovereignty

No IDF presence in the West Bank/Jordan Valley

A multinational peacekeeping force

A demilitarized Palestinian state

A symbolic right of return and Israeli providing compensation to all refugees

For perspective, if one asks former head of Peace Now and ex-Meretz Knesset member Mossi Raz how he thinks the conflict should end and what is an appropriate compromise, he will say the Clinton Parameters. Similarly, if one asks Peter Beinart, one of Israel’s most fierce Zionist-critics of Israel and someone who boycotts all products made in the settlements, how he thinks the conflict should end and what a fair compromise would be, he will say the Clinton parameters.

Bill Clinton presented his parameters after investing a significant amount of time and capital with the Israeli and Palestinians after 8 long years of negotiations. He felt that after negotiating for so long and earning both parties trust and respect, he was in a good position to recommend what he saw would be an equitable and pragmatic solution to the conflict.

For what its worth, Israel accepted and later endorsed the Clinton Parameters (as demonstrated through their offers) while the Palestinians did not accept them. It is unfortunate that the Americans have abandoned these principles (and very telling as to why).

When one hears former White House officials such as Dennis Ross or Elliot Abrams speak about American policy on Israel, they will discuss the difference between the White House and the State Department. They say that the State Department likes to go along to get along. The State Department’s desire is for everyone to like them and as a result, they take a harsher stance against Israel as they see American support for Israel as making their jobs more challenging. This is why these former officials stress the importance of having Israel handled by the White House, not the State Department because instead of doing what is popular, the White House acts for what it believes is right. It just so happens that the White House’s views happen to have aligned with the State Department.

Due to the overwhelming support of Israel by the American people, from Catholics to Protestants and Latinos to Blacks; the President will always overtly act in favour of Israel. However, most of what a President does in regards to Israel – things such as coordinating policies on Iran, choosing to leak information about Israeli actions in places like Syria and Iran, supporting Israel in international bodies, threatening Israel diplomatically, not condemning Israel’s enemies etc. are not done overtly. As time progresses, the Obama doctrine on Israel is becoming more and more visible.

About the Author
Daniel lived in Israel where he pursued his graduate studies focussing on Israeli policy. Daniel is now back in his home country of Canada studying law. Come check me out at