Analyst: Obama Poorly Briefed on Israeli-Palestinian Affairs

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 07:17 AM

By Elliot Jager

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President Barack Obama's interview with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg in advance of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday suggests he has been "poorly briefed" on Palestinian affairs, according to veteran Israeli political analyst Aaron Lerner.

Warning that the Israeli Arab and Palestinian Arab population is growing, Obama said that Israel could not remain both Jewish and democratic without a withdrawal from the strategic West Bank. If Jerusalem did not turn the area over to the Palestinians,  the United States would find it difficult to counter Arab and European moves to isolate the country in the international arena.

Lerner countered that the demographic threat is overstated. Arab fertility rates in the West Bank and within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries are, in fact, declining while Jewish birth rates are rising, he wrote.

According to Lerner, Israel faces a potential demographic threat with the creation of a Palestinian state, which would open its doors to a massive influx of Arabs now living in unstable surrounding countries.

The president also urged Israel to make concessions now to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the grounds that his successor might be a more confrontational figure. If Abbas is replaced by a radical leader, Lerner questions the wisdom of making territorial concessions now, which would leave that leader in possession of the West Bank.

The president told Goldberg he has never heard Israelis offer a viable option to the status quo. Lerner said that Israeli ministers have offered alternative blueprints that would not entail transforming the West Bank into a Palestinian state.

Obama seemed unaware that ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank are not hankering after a state led by the Palestine Liberation Organization, Lerner said. Many would accept Israeli annexation of the areas in return for full Israeli citizenship rights along with "ramped up programs aimed at making the remaining Palestinian autonomous urban areas economic successes."

Lerner said that the president does not appreciate that "as far as the Arabs are concerned, Israel's existence is 'the problem.'"

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