As Rick, Jonathan, and David aptly analyzed yesterday, we unfortunately see once again how the Obama administration seems determined to flunk Diplomacy 101 when it comes to the Middle East. While Iran proceeds apace with its nuclear program, the Obama administration remains obsessed with the settlements. I can only add a couple of points emphasizing how terribly misplaced and counterproductive this fixation is.
First, under any circumstances, this would be yet another ill-advised and unwarranted bit of “meddling” by the U.S. government. What other country do we lecture on where its citizens might live — in its own capital, no less? But consider the property in question. The site, which an American businessman acquired in the 1980s, originally belonged to Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. It afterward was used as a hotel from 1945 until the 1967 Six Day War. Most recently, the Jerusalem border police rented it as a base.
So the property was originally occupied by the notorious Nazi collaborator and has never been occupied or used as Arab housing since. Nevertheless, the U.S. government once again makes this the focus of its ire and attention.
Furthermore, as Elliott Abrams pointed out, the efforts by George Mitchell to leave his mark by coming up with a compromise on the settlement issue before he departs has not merely incurred the wrath of the Israelis; a “compromise” on settlements by its very nature will undermine the Palestinian Authority:
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiator Saeb Erekat are on record demanding a total freeze — including in Jerusalem, without a time limit, all over the West Bank, every settlement, all sorts of buildings. No exceptions for construction now under way, for kindergartens, not even (or, perhaps, especially?) for synagogues. Where do they stand when the United States government announces its deal — allowing several thousand units to be completed and remaining silent on Jerusalem? Compared with the current situation — daily denunciations of settlements by Washington, while Palestinians are asked to do nothing — all of a sudden the U.S. will seem to have switched sides. All of a sudden the actual construction work you see before you is okay, Washington blesses it; and as to Jerusalem there will be no stated limits at all. “There are no middle-ground solutions for the settlement issue: Either settlement activity stops or it doesn’t stop,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio last week. Under all the possible compromises, it doesn’t stop — or so it will seem to Erekat and his boss Abbas, and to any Palestinian listening to Hamas’s radio and TV denunciations of such a deal.
As Abrams concludes, “So, this Obama settlement mania will end up damaging not only Netanyahu but Abbas as well.” So why do this? One might conclude that Obama is determined to cause a rift with Israel. After all, he told American Jewish leaders it was important to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. Well, picking a fight over a comparatively insignificant settlement on which the Israeli prime minister could not possibly relent is certainly one way to do that.
This, of course, should be a concern for American Jewish “leaders.” This sort of disproportionate, unhelpful, and destructive action by the Obama team is what American Jewish “leaders” should be discussing both in private and in public, pointing out the counterproductive message it conveys to the recalcitrant Palestinians:
According to assessments in Jerusalem, the Palestinians — concerned that Jerusalem and Washington might find a compromise solution on construction in the settlements — are looking for other issues they can raise with the Americans, in the hope that the Obama administration would continue to turn the diplomatic heat up on Israel.
“The Palestinians are riding the wave,” one official said, adding that the Palestinians generally raise these matters with the US and British consulates in Jerusalem, with the hope that they will pass the messages on to Washington and London, which will then pressure Jerusalem.
But what are they saying? Well the J Street crowd, ever helpful to the Palestinian propaganda machine, decries the notion that Jews should build and occupy property in East Jerusalem. Plainly, if the Obama administration is hassling Israel and determining where Jews can and cannot live, J Street is delighted. (Their call to adhere to past agreements on the “settlement freeze” would be helpful if the Obama administration in fact were abiding by past agreements it made.) J Street has already declared East Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital, so no Jews should be living there, you see. (Hmm, I thought the status of Jerusalem was to be decided . . . No, the answer to any issue for J Street is “Israel is in breach of its agreements.”) At the other end of the spectrum, the Orthodox Union applauds Netanyahu’s brush-back pitch and declares:
The Orthodox Union disagrees with the position of the United States that, like Jewish settlement activities in other areas of Judea and Samaria, Israel must not permit new Jewish residency or construction is eastern sections of Jerusalem.
We remain partners with you . . . for the continued preservation of Jerusalem’s unity as the Jewish people’s holy and eternal capital.
And what about the rest of the American Jewish “leaders”? Their muteness will no doubt be taken by the Obama team as a sign of agreement with J Street’s “No Jews in East Jerusalem” position. After all, they didn’t make much, or really any, fuss when Obama told them just how important it was to separate the U.S. from Israel. Silence implies consent on this one.
So here we find ourselves. Obama picking a fight with Israel. The vast majority of the U.S. Jewish community’s “leaders” continue to excuse or remain mute in the face of the Obama administration’s counterproductive actions. Aggravate our friends, renege on our own obligations, and encourage rejectionism. Quite a formula for peace. Someone should take issue with that next time he is schmoozing in the White House.