The US administration is reportedly weighing what would be a highly controversial move to back a United Nations resolution outlining the principles of a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in a fresh peace push.
The report came just as US Vice President Joe Biden headed to Israel on Tuesday as part of a Middle East tour; the White House has insisted he will not be aiming to jump-start peace efforts.
Senior US officials told The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) that outgoing President Barack Obama wants to bequeath more promising ground to his successor by announcing an initiative of some kind to push the moribund peace process forward. The last US-backed effort to kick-start the process broke down in 2014.
Should the President decide to choose the UN option, he might utilize his final appearance at the annual UN General Assembly meet this fall to announce an initiative, the Journal said.
Other options for a last-ditch Obama plan might be a presidential speech and joint statement with the Middle East Quartet, made up of the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia, the Journal reported.
The fresh US effort may involve pressuring Israel to stop settlement building and recognize East Jerusalem as the Palestinian’s capital in exchange for the Palestinians agreement to relinquish claims for the Palestinians’ right to return and to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, officials told the Journal. As discussed in previous rounds of negotiations, any deal would give the Palestinians alternative land in exchange for allowing Israel to retain major settlement blocs.
The US traditionally vetoes UN resolutions critical of Israel. In recent years, it has adopted what has become known as the Negroponte doctrine, named for former US ambassador to the UN John Negroponte, according to which the US will veto any resolution that condemns Israel without also condemning terrorist groups. The US has also repeatedly stressed its belief that Israeli-Palestinian peace can only be negotiated between the two sides themselves, rather than imposed from outside.
White House officials have insisted that Obama does not see grounds for a fresh peace initiative in the last year of his presidency, saying both sides seem unwilling to reach an accord. Obama has himself said he does not believe a deal could be included in his remaining time in office. At the same time Washington has refused to say whether it will support a French bid to convene a peace conference aimed at jump-starting talks.
Jerusalem and Washington have both maintained that bilateral talks are key to moving forward, but US Secretary of State John Kerry recently said a different approach may be needed, hinting at possible support for the French bid.
Israel has dismissed the French initiative, saying Paris’s threat to recognize a Palestinian state if it fails gives the other side no motivation to compromise.
France has also said it is looking at pushing forward a UN resolution which would set a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank.
Obama’s presidential predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also tried — but failed — to spark new interest in an Israeli-Palestinian agreement shortly before leaving the White House.
“As it relates to the possibility for a major push on a two-state outcome, it remains our view that there is no other viable outcome other than a two-state” solution,” a senior official told the WSJ. “But I’ll be candid with you, and U.S. officials have been saying this now for quite some time: We don’t think we’re on the brink of a breakthrough in this area.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal.