Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jerusalem Planning Committee

Apartments in Jerusalem, Now More Scandalizing than Ever

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

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In a Tizzy Again

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is willing to show “restraint” in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem, senior government sources said Tuesday night. Their comments followed the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee’s approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the ensuing international objections.

The administration is unhinged again (isn’t it always?) over Jerusalem settlements:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” [Robert] Gibbs said in a statement. ” At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

“Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

It’s probably poor form to cite “permanent status” issues since the administration has been on a mission to force Israel to cough up concessions on settlements up front, not as a final-status issue, as has been envisioned on the “road map.”

But this is evidence, certainly, if any more were needed, that the Obama administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful at getting either side in the inert “peace process” to do anything. The Bush administration, you will recall — criticized for being “too close” to Israel — was able to get the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza, dismantle settlements, slow the growth of new ones and address the issue of checkpoints — not by threatening Israel but by building rapport and demonstrating that we consider Israel an ally, not an impediment to peace. Back in August, former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who was instrumental in that approach, wrote :

The Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

And then came months of more of the same ineffective haranguing from the Obami, topped off by the egregious rudeness shown the Israeli Prime Minister on his recent visit. The Obama team now sees the results of its own failed policy.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is willing to show “restraint” in construction in the West Bank, but will not accept any restriction on building in Jerusalem, senior government sources said Tuesday night. Their comments followed the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee’s approval of a plan to build some 900 new units in the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and the ensuing international objections.

The administration is unhinged again (isn’t it always?) over Jerusalem settlements:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” [Robert] Gibbs said in a statement. ” At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations. The U.S. also objects to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.”

“Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

It’s probably poor form to cite “permanent status” issues since the administration has been on a mission to force Israel to cough up concessions on settlements up front, not as a final-status issue, as has been envisioned on the “road map.”

But this is evidence, certainly, if any more were needed, that the Obama administration has been spectacularly unsuccessful at getting either side in the inert “peace process” to do anything. The Bush administration, you will recall — criticized for being “too close” to Israel — was able to get the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza, dismantle settlements, slow the growth of new ones and address the issue of checkpoints — not by threatening Israel but by building rapport and demonstrating that we consider Israel an ally, not an impediment to peace. Back in August, former Bush deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who was instrumental in that approach, wrote :

The Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

And then came months of more of the same ineffective haranguing from the Obami, topped off by the egregious rudeness shown the Israeli Prime Minister on his recent visit. The Obama team now sees the results of its own failed policy.

Read Less




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