Mediators serve an important role in conflicts. They attempt to bridge the gap between parties to arrive at a mutually-agreed upon compromise to conclude the disagreement. If the mediator cannot resolve the matter, it is most likely that a judge would be tasked at making – and imposing – a final ruling.
Take divorce as an example. A mediator may be brought in by the parties to resolve issues related to child custody. If the mediator cannot get the parties to agree to terms, the case would go to court to rule on the matter.
Obama and Trump as Mediators
In February 2017, US President Donald Trump seemed to take a new stance in trying to mediate the Israeli-Arab conflict. In response to a reporter’s question about how the US will approach its role as a mediator, Trump said:
“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. (Laughter.) I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.
I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
The media went wild. They printed headlines that Trump abandoned the two-state solution.
- Haaretz: “Trump Declines to Endorse Two-state Solution“
- NPR: “Trump Appears To Back Off 2-State Solution“
- New York Times: “Trump, Meeting With Netanyahu, Backs Away From Palestinian State“
In actuality, Trump said that he is happy if the parties themselves are happy. The role of the mediator was not to dictate the outcome but to resolve the conflict so that the parties themselves reach a consensus. The goal was peace between the parties, not necessarily a particular formula to get there.
Consider the contrast in Obama’s approach to the negotiations and the response of the media. In May 2011 Obama said:
“I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause) — so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
The media noted that Obama laid out a conclusion of what the final result of the compromise would look like: two states.
- Haaretz: “Obama’s Vision for Mideast Peace: Israel, Palestine Based on 1967 Borders With Land Swaps“
- CNN: “Obama calls for Israel’s return to pre-1967 borders“
- New York Times: “Obama Sees ’67 Borders as Starting Point for Peace Deal“
The Obama speech irked the Israeli government that was clear in its intention of not returning to the “Auschwitz” lines of 1967. Obama countered that he had not laid out a conclusion that was not a matter of consensus, as he specifically included language that there would be “mutually agreed” land swaps.
From Mediator to Biased Mediator to Judge
If a mediator in a divorce announced that she was open to the father having custody or the woman having custody of the children, whichever conclusion could be worked out by the parties, her position would be considered open and balanced. However, if she stated that the mother would have custody and that the only matter to work out was whether the father would see the children on Tuesdays or Fridays, her position as mediator would be seen as clearly biased. The inclusion of a minor clause that the only point being considered was a matter of visitation, while the broad parameters were already concluded, would be seen as a jaundiced farce.
And so was the position of Obama.
He did not focus on a bringing peace agreed to by each party, but stated an outcome that he viewed as fair. Obama abandoned his position as a private unbiased mediator. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government not only questioned the content of Obama’s statement, but his role as both a mediator and important ally.
In November 2016, when Obama’s preferred presidential successor Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic election, Obama decided that ANY role for the United States as a mediator had concluded, as he did not believe that Donald Trump’s administration would be fair, competent or effective. It was therefore time to pass the Israeli-Arab Conflict to a judge: the United Nations.
In December 2016, Obama directed his UN ambassador Samantha Power to abstain from an important vote, thereby allowing United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to pass which declared that Israelis living east of the Green Line was illegal. Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry then went on to berate Israel (still under the guise as a “mediator”):
“Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent land swaps.”
Team Obama again left the “mutually agreed” clause at the edges – literally. And Kerry added a new dimension that the land swaps should be “equivalent,” echoing a phrase (“comparable”) introduced by the Arab League.
President Obama moved his team from an impartial mediator to a biased one, happy to hand the situation to a judge that shared his animus for Israel. As he left office, Obama chose to belittle and undermine both the Trump administration and Israel, by enabling the UN and world to begin boycotting and suing the Jewish State.
Obama was well aware that the UN was anti-Israel at its core as it moved to sideline a negotiated solution between the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. Samantha Power read a prepared statement right after UNSC 2334 passed:
“But in reality this vote for us was not straightforward, because of where it is taking place – at the United Nations. For the simple truth is that for as long as Israel has been a member of this institution, Israel has been treated differently from other nations at the United Nations. And not only in decades past – such as in the infamous resolution that the General Assembly adopted in 1975, with the support of the majority of Member States, officially determining that, “Zionism is a form of racism” – but also in 2016, this year. One need only look at the 18 resolutions against Israel adopted during the UN General Assembly in September; or the 12 Israel-specific resolutions adopted this year in the Human Rights Council – more than those focused on Syria, North Korea, Iran, and South Sudan put together – to see that in 2016 Israel continues to be treated differently from other Member States.”
In other words, Obama knew that the judge would eviscerate Israel, but if Team Obama could not bring peace, this was the best that could be hoped for.
Trump’s Two Fronts: A New Mediator and Sidelining the Judge
The Trump administration now has a two-pronged effort to resolve the century old conflict: as a new unbiased mediator, and as an active player in managing the judge.
As the UN officially declared (with Obama’s blessing) that Jews are illegally living in their homeland in a reversal of the League of Nations declarations of 1920 and 1922, the Trump administration is actively fighting back.
On March 18, 2017, after a UN agency released a report that Israel is an “apartheid state,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley pressured the UN to withdraw the report. The diplomat that co-authored the report refused and resigned. Haley applauded the move, saying “When someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the U.N., it is appropriate that the person resign.”
Earlier in the week, Trump’s new envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and acting President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to re-launch the peace process that was crippled by the Obama administration. After the meeting with Abbas, the US Consulate General said that the two men “reaffirmed the commitment of both the Palestinian Authority and the United States to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Obama concluded his tenure regarding the Israeli conflict as a disgrace. He proved to be a terrible and biased mediator. To add an exclamation to his failure, his hubris compelled him to undermine the Trump Administration’s role of mediator, and passed the conflict into the hands of anti-Semitic judges at the United Nations.
Obama made the odds of achieving peace in the Middle East more remote. But perhaps under the watch of Nikki Haley and Jason Greenblatt, the peace process will get another chance.
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