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The White House recently acknowledged that it was out of ideas on how to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, raising — for the first time — the prospect that Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank is permanent.
This admission highlights the regrettable conclusion of the Obama presidency’s Israel-Palestinian policy, which opened in 2009 with high expectations raised by the ill-conceived and ill-fated decision to put the demand for a settlement freeze at the top of his diplomatic agenda.
Obama quickly assembled a “dream team” to implement the settlement freeze, led by former Sen. George Mitchell, who brokered the historic Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, and who, as the head of the Mitchell Commission, in April 2001 called on Israel to “freeze all settlement activity, including the ‘natural growth’ of existing settlements.”
In 2009 then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set the uncompromising terms of U.S. policy, that Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions ... That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”
But Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze failed spectacularly, convincing Israel’s combative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he could successfully oppose not only the demand to end settlement expansion but also Obama’s broader diplomatic program.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the recent meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, in which the U.S. surrender to Netanyahu’s West Bank agenda was finalized.