US official: Obama blames settlements for failed talks


In the Times of Israel we read:

Earlier this month, anonymous American officials personally involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – special envoy Martin Indyk presumed to have been among them – provided a harsh assessment to a respected Israeli journalist of why negotiations failed, highlighting Israel’s continued settlement construction as the issue “largely to blame.”


A senior Obama administration official told The New York Times on Thursday, however, that the assessment may as well have been provided by the US president himself. The official claimed that the White House had “cleared the interview” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea, and that “the critical remarks faithfully reflect the president’s own views.”


The unnamed senior official said that Obama believes, more than any other factor, that Israeli announcements of construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem throughout the nine months of talks led to the negotiations’ collapse.

This, of course, was highly predictable.

In December of 2009 in a piece entitled, The End of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, I wrote the following:

As I have written before, Obama’s big mistake, if he was hoping to actually bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, was calling for a total settlement freeze in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The demand for total settlement freeze, even within blocs that would likely end up as part of Israel, has resulted in a number of negative consequences that undermine even the slim possibility of a negotiated settlement.


The first negative consequence is that by calling for a total settlement freeze, Obama placed a precondition on negotiations at a time when he should have avoided any move that might decrease the likelihood of the two sides sitting down at the negotiating table. When Obama called for total freeze, Abbas took it as an opportunity to avoid negotiations and insisted that the Palestinians would never sit down with the Israelis until Israel met that demand.

There are two things further to note about the demand that Jews cease building housing for themselves in Judea and Samaria.  The first is the vile bigotry against the Jewish people embedded in the very notion of it.  In fact, it is flat-out racism against Jews, but we know that the Arab-Muslim world is absolutely rife with hatred toward Jews which is why we have the conflict in the first place.

This prejudice against the Jewish minority in the Middle East by the Muslim majority is why the Palestinian-Arabs are demanding that any future state of “Palestine” must be Judenrein. What is remarkable is not that Palestinian-Arabs despise Jews, but that educated and intelligent westerners, like Barack Obama, go along with it.  Jewish people marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and supported both the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist Movements of the 1950s and 1960s by margins well-exceeding most other non-African-American minority groups.

And now we have an African-American President of the United States, who the Jewish community by large margins supported in both recent presidential elections, yet who believes that Jews must live on historically Jewish land according to where the PLO demands where we may be allowed to do so.  Which, I have to say, is something that I find remarkably odd.  Can you imagine if when Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were driving down that road in Mississippi that Mr. Chaney could possibly have held the notion in his mind that an American president should have the right to tell Jews where we may be allowed to live in the Land of Israel?

I do not think so.

Yet, here is the first African-American president in U.S. history who thinks precisely that.  And, it must be noted, in doing so justifies Mahmoud Abbas’s prejudice against us.

The demand for “total settlement freeze” was nothing more than an obviously bigoted means by which the PLO could avoid a negotiated conclusion of hostilities.  By going along Obama revealed strategic and diplomatic ineptitude.  He demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of Palestinian-Arab political culture, as well as a terrific ignorance concerning not only the long history of Jewish submission under Arab-Muslim imperial rule, but even an ignorance of the conflict in its most recent phases.  And, if that was not bad enough, Obama also shamelessly affirmed toxic Arab anti-Jewish bigotry.

How well-meaning progressive-left diaspora Jews could go along with this, as did I, initially, is fairly remarkable.

Ultimately we threw our brothers and sisters in Judea and Samaria “under the bus,” as they say.  We should have been standing with them from the beginning, but instead we justified Mahmoud Abbas’s prejudices to the entire western world.  We actually agreed with the Arab League and Fatah and the PLO and the Palestinian Authority that Jews should be allowed to live (and thus build) in some places but not others, and one of the main places that we are supposed to not live (or build) is Judea.

While virtually everyone points the trembling finger of blame at the Israelis, it is long past time for us to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror.

Liberal diaspora Jews, such as myself, not only justified a wholly counterproductive policy, we justified a wholly counterproductive policy that was also bigoted and entirely unjust toward our fellow Jews in the Middle East.

{With apologies to Yosef and Melody.}


Michael Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives and a regular contributor to Jews Down Under and the Elder of Ziyon.

About the Author
Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel and at his own blog, Israel Thrives ( He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at