Commentary Magazine


RE: Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.