Our View: Sticky Rice

Our View: Sticky Rice

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was the highest-ranking U.S. official to speak at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington from Sunday to Tuesday, June 5 to 7, so it’s tempting to parse her remarks for a commitment by the Obama administration to a final push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Sadly, that search is in vain, even though Rice took the stage just three days after Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his participation in a Paris conference meant to jump-start the moribund peace process.

Here’s everything Rice had to say about the Paris meeting: “Secretary Kerry has just returned from a gathering of foreign ministers in Paris, where the United States and all other participants underscored that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace. A solution cannot be imposed on the parties. But we continue to urge them to undertake meaningful actions on the ground that are consistent with their rhetorical commitment to two states.”

Rather than delve into the elusive peace process, Rice chose to relive the Iran debate of last summer and celebrate its “undeniable” results while making the easily deniable claim that this administration “will not let Iran off the hook.”

Even while speaking to AJC, an organization that keeps its eyes on the future instead of reliving old battles, Rice couldn’t resist doubling down on the goal of making Iran the signature foreign policy achievement of the President Barack Obama. It doesn’t matter that it’s far too soon to know whether his approach of speaking loudly and leaving the big stick at home will contribute to the emergence of a reform-minded, Western-leaning Iran or an expanded Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.

But all the Iran talk was just posturing for posterity, just as Rice’s nostalgia for neighborhood seders and b’not mitzvah as a child in Washington was merely for entertainment.

For real policy over the final seven months of the administration, Rice produced one bit of valuable news: In the negotiations over a long-term memorandum of understanding regarding U.S. military aid to Israel, Obama is offering “a significant increase in support” through 2029 “even in these days of belt tightening.”

She didn’t put a number on that boosted aid, and we still lean toward a mutually beneficial phase-out of the aid in favor of the seeding of special-purpose U.S.-Israeli venture capital funds, as proposed by former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger. But as long as the current system is seen as the best way to guarantee Israel’s security, more is better.

The unaddressed question is the price of the increased aid. What does Obama want?

We might find a clue in Rice’s strong condemnation of West Bank settlements: “Settlement activity corrodes the prospects for two states. It moves us toward a one-state reality. Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state is at stake.”

All of that is true, and Israel shouldn’t flinch when it hears the truth. But if this administration or its successor wants to help advance a two-state solution, it must practice what Rice preached to the United Nations: Drop the “unbalanced and counterproductive focus on Israel.”

Stop blaming one side for the lack of peace progress. Try offering substantive proposals to bring the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table, and keep the focus on the future instead of resting on Iranian laurels.

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