Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ramat Shlomo

The Purpose of the Proximity Talks

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

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Farcical Proximity Talks

The “peace process” is underway, George Mitchell boasts. But the first “achievement” reveals how inane the entire exercise is. This report explains that the State Department crows that “Israel had pledged not to build in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem for two years.” But wait:

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the American announcement later Sunday, confirming that the housing project intended for the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood would not be built in the coming two years. The sources added that even when the Ramat Shlomo crisis first erupted, when the housing project was announced just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, Israel told the U.S. administration that the project was only in very initial stages and construction would not begin for at least two years.

So what was the cause of an international incident is now touted as a success. That’s the Orwellian world of peace talks. And the PA’s contribution? They promise not to incite violence. Hmm. Will they rename Dalal Mughrabi square after someone who did not slaughter 38 Israeli civilians? Will we hear a call to end the days of rage? For now, each party pretends something is happening. Meanwhile, the “achievements” remain ephemeral, their only purpose being to secure further employment for George Mitchell.

Thus, the “peace process” exercise, to any knowledgeable onlooker, devolves into farce. And in the end, it is counterproductive, tragically so. For, of course, the Palestinians could have had their own state 60 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or last year. They’ve been offered one over and over again. Perhaps it’s time to try something new. One clear-eyed commentator suggested:

If the Palestinians free themselves, finally, of the Jew-hatred that has for so long permeated their history books, if they overcome the odds against them of a leadership that for generations has enriched itself on the backs of their misery and preferred their wretchedness to nationhood, if they actually succeed in building a state, not a single one of the nearly infinite number of hours wasted on that goal by all the James Bakers and Dennis Rosses and Condoleeeza Rices and George Mitchells of the world will have been responsible. Their own will, and the outstretched hands of the people they’ve spent all those decades blaming for their desolation and trying to destroy will have helped them get there. And that’s a peace process we can believe in.

But so long as the Palestinians have George Mitchell to carry their water and strong-arm Israel, why not stick — quite literally — to their guns? Obama might just deliver a Palestinian state, and an emaciated and indefensible Israel, to them.

The “peace process” is underway, George Mitchell boasts. But the first “achievement” reveals how inane the entire exercise is. This report explains that the State Department crows that “Israel had pledged not to build in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem for two years.” But wait:

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the American announcement later Sunday, confirming that the housing project intended for the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood would not be built in the coming two years. The sources added that even when the Ramat Shlomo crisis first erupted, when the housing project was announced just as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, Israel told the U.S. administration that the project was only in very initial stages and construction would not begin for at least two years.

So what was the cause of an international incident is now touted as a success. That’s the Orwellian world of peace talks. And the PA’s contribution? They promise not to incite violence. Hmm. Will they rename Dalal Mughrabi square after someone who did not slaughter 38 Israeli civilians? Will we hear a call to end the days of rage? For now, each party pretends something is happening. Meanwhile, the “achievements” remain ephemeral, their only purpose being to secure further employment for George Mitchell.

Thus, the “peace process” exercise, to any knowledgeable onlooker, devolves into farce. And in the end, it is counterproductive, tragically so. For, of course, the Palestinians could have had their own state 60 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Or last year. They’ve been offered one over and over again. Perhaps it’s time to try something new. One clear-eyed commentator suggested:

If the Palestinians free themselves, finally, of the Jew-hatred that has for so long permeated their history books, if they overcome the odds against them of a leadership that for generations has enriched itself on the backs of their misery and preferred their wretchedness to nationhood, if they actually succeed in building a state, not a single one of the nearly infinite number of hours wasted on that goal by all the James Bakers and Dennis Rosses and Condoleeeza Rices and George Mitchells of the world will have been responsible. Their own will, and the outstretched hands of the people they’ve spent all those decades blaming for their desolation and trying to destroy will have helped them get there. And that’s a peace process we can believe in.

But so long as the Palestinians have George Mitchell to carry their water and strong-arm Israel, why not stick — quite literally — to their guns? Obama might just deliver a Palestinian state, and an emaciated and indefensible Israel, to them.

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Obama’s Anti-Israel Bullying Continues

The New York Times reports on the opening of the proximity talks, with two nuggets of news confirming that for all its “charm,” the Obami’s anti-Israel assault is going full steam ahead.

First, the Times — presumably with some sourcing — pronounces that “many experts agree that the chances of a breakthrough are minuscule, and some say the whole exercise is simply a warm-up before Mr. Obama puts forward his own proposals for ending decades of conflict.”  Some say? But the president and Hillary Clinton of late have been promising they won’t “impose” any peace deal. Are we to believe that’s just spin? Yes, we’re shocked, shocked to find there’s duplicity going on in the Obami’s Israel policy. We are, no doubt, going to hear that they gave the parties every chance to work things out among themselves, but, by gosh, now it’s time to get serious and — voila! — here’s the Obama plan. But they promised not to pull this, you say? Well, they also say a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable,” so don’t take them too literally.

But the real news comes with this glimpse into the bully-boyism that now characterizes the Obami’s treatment of our ally. We learn:

The Arab League is expected to endorse the decision of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to the bargaining table, when the organization meets on Saturday in Cairo. Mr. Abbas’s change of heart, administration officials said, came after reassurances from the United States, including a letter from Mr. Obama prodding the Palestinian leader to re-enter talks with Israel. Separately, these officials said, Mr. Mitchell’s deputy, David Hale, indicated to the Palestinians that if Israel proceeded with the construction of 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the United States would abstain from, rather than veto, a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the move.

So much for defending Israel in international institutions, and so much for past promises by the U.S. to leave disposition of Jerusalem to final-status talks. A knowledgeable source reminds me that the Bush administration regularly vetoed anti-Israel UN resolutions, the sole exception being an abstention in January 2009, which called for a ceasefire in the Gaza War. But the notion that we would threaten prospectively to permit a condemnation of  the Jewish state by the UN Israel-bashers is frankly shocking. We’ll abstain no matter what the UN says? As the source tells me, “Resolutions are vetoed one by one; language counts.” So the Obami are either making a promise to the Palestinians that can’t be relied upon, or the Obami are giving Israel’s UN foes a blank check to bash, condemn, and vilify Israel to their heart’s content.

Once again, one asks, where are the mainstream Jewish organizations? Do they find Obama’s platitudinous assurances and pretty letters so irresistible that they can’t bestir themselves to discern the true nature of Obama’s Middle East policy? The evidence continues to mount that Obama will keep turning the screws on the Jewish state and will countenance, if not encourage, the UN’s crusade to delegitimize Israel and impose a “peace” on an unwilling ally. American Jewish “leaders” better rouse themselves from their slumber before it too late to knock the Obami off their desired course. Or maybe it already is.

The New York Times reports on the opening of the proximity talks, with two nuggets of news confirming that for all its “charm,” the Obami’s anti-Israel assault is going full steam ahead.

First, the Times — presumably with some sourcing — pronounces that “many experts agree that the chances of a breakthrough are minuscule, and some say the whole exercise is simply a warm-up before Mr. Obama puts forward his own proposals for ending decades of conflict.”  Some say? But the president and Hillary Clinton of late have been promising they won’t “impose” any peace deal. Are we to believe that’s just spin? Yes, we’re shocked, shocked to find there’s duplicity going on in the Obami’s Israel policy. We are, no doubt, going to hear that they gave the parties every chance to work things out among themselves, but, by gosh, now it’s time to get serious and — voila! — here’s the Obama plan. But they promised not to pull this, you say? Well, they also say a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable,” so don’t take them too literally.

But the real news comes with this glimpse into the bully-boyism that now characterizes the Obami’s treatment of our ally. We learn:

The Arab League is expected to endorse the decision of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to the bargaining table, when the organization meets on Saturday in Cairo. Mr. Abbas’s change of heart, administration officials said, came after reassurances from the United States, including a letter from Mr. Obama prodding the Palestinian leader to re-enter talks with Israel. Separately, these officials said, Mr. Mitchell’s deputy, David Hale, indicated to the Palestinians that if Israel proceeded with the construction of 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the United States would abstain from, rather than veto, a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the move.

So much for defending Israel in international institutions, and so much for past promises by the U.S. to leave disposition of Jerusalem to final-status talks. A knowledgeable source reminds me that the Bush administration regularly vetoed anti-Israel UN resolutions, the sole exception being an abstention in January 2009, which called for a ceasefire in the Gaza War. But the notion that we would threaten prospectively to permit a condemnation of  the Jewish state by the UN Israel-bashers is frankly shocking. We’ll abstain no matter what the UN says? As the source tells me, “Resolutions are vetoed one by one; language counts.” So the Obami are either making a promise to the Palestinians that can’t be relied upon, or the Obami are giving Israel’s UN foes a blank check to bash, condemn, and vilify Israel to their heart’s content.

Once again, one asks, where are the mainstream Jewish organizations? Do they find Obama’s platitudinous assurances and pretty letters so irresistible that they can’t bestir themselves to discern the true nature of Obama’s Middle East policy? The evidence continues to mount that Obama will keep turning the screws on the Jewish state and will countenance, if not encourage, the UN’s crusade to delegitimize Israel and impose a “peace” on an unwilling ally. American Jewish “leaders” better rouse themselves from their slumber before it too late to knock the Obami off their desired course. Or maybe it already is.

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Mort Zuckerman vs. Obama’s Jerusalem Gambit

Mort Zuckerman does not mince words:

The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its capital, in particular in a Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem called Ramat Shlomo. This, despite the fact that all former administrations have unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain part of Israel under any final peace agreement. Objecting to any building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final status talks with the Palestinians even begin.

From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term — “settlements” — to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this administration really understands the issue.

Zuckerman provides a useful recap of recent history, reminding those who populate the White House that a divided Jerusalem has been tried before. (“Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 to 1967, dozens of synagogues were destroyed or vandalized. The ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated, its tombstones used for the construction of roads and Jordanian army latrines. The rights of Christians as well as Jews were abused, with some churches converted into mosques.”) And there are, as Zuckerman recounts, religious, historic, and strategic reasons for Israel to retain its undivided capital.

Zuckerman’s point is well taken: the Obami have embarked on a radical break with past administrations. Obama’s Jerusalem policy is not isolated but rather part of America’s larger break with Israel. It shouldn’t surprise observers that as the Obami attempt to distance the U.S. from Israel that they would strike at the symbolic, religious heart of the Jewish people. If you’re going for the jugular and want to demonstrate that the historic relationship between the U.S. and Israel isn’t what it used to be, you go after Jerusalem. If you want to score points with the Palestinians, you take up the most emotional and heartfelt issue for Israelis and worldwide Jewry. In sum, if you wanted to show the world that Israel can no longer count on the U.S. to defend its fundamental interests, you’d do just what the Obami did.

Mort Zuckerman does not mince words:

The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its capital, in particular in a Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem called Ramat Shlomo. This, despite the fact that all former administrations have unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain part of Israel under any final peace agreement. Objecting to any building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final status talks with the Palestinians even begin.

From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term — “settlements” — to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this administration really understands the issue.

Zuckerman provides a useful recap of recent history, reminding those who populate the White House that a divided Jerusalem has been tried before. (“Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 to 1967, dozens of synagogues were destroyed or vandalized. The ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated, its tombstones used for the construction of roads and Jordanian army latrines. The rights of Christians as well as Jews were abused, with some churches converted into mosques.”) And there are, as Zuckerman recounts, religious, historic, and strategic reasons for Israel to retain its undivided capital.

Zuckerman’s point is well taken: the Obami have embarked on a radical break with past administrations. Obama’s Jerusalem policy is not isolated but rather part of America’s larger break with Israel. It shouldn’t surprise observers that as the Obami attempt to distance the U.S. from Israel that they would strike at the symbolic, religious heart of the Jewish people. If you’re going for the jugular and want to demonstrate that the historic relationship between the U.S. and Israel isn’t what it used to be, you go after Jerusalem. If you want to score points with the Palestinians, you take up the most emotional and heartfelt issue for Israelis and worldwide Jewry. In sum, if you wanted to show the world that Israel can no longer count on the U.S. to defend its fundamental interests, you’d do just what the Obami did.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

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What Makes This President Different from All Other Presidents?

As the dispute between the Israel and the United States enters its third week, President Obama’s anger at Israel and his determination to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give in on the question of building in the eastern sector of Israel’s capital is apparently unabated.

Yet this is hardly the first dispute between the two countries. Every administration since 1967 has proposed peace plans and negotiating strategies that Israel disliked or actively resisted. Genuine friends such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as less friendly presidents such as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, all pushed hard at times for Israeli acceptance of unpalatable concessions. But in spite of these precedents, Barack Obama has managed to go where no American president has gone before. For all the problems created by all his predecessors about settlements in the West Bank, no previous American leader has ever chosen to draw a line in the sand about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

It is true that the United States never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of the city after Jerusalem’s unification in 1967. In fact, it has never even recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the new Jewish neighborhoods that sprang up along the northern, eastern, and southern outskirts of the city, as well as the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, were never a source of contention even during the presidencies of Carter and the elder Bush. Indeed, the notion that places such as Ramat Eshkol, Pisgat Zeev, Gilo, and even Ramat Shlomo (the site of the “insult” to Vice President Biden) are considered “settlements” by the United States and thus no different from the most remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank is something that has come as a complete surprise to most Israelis, let alone American supporters of Israel.

During the course of his first go at Netanyahu, Obama made it clear that, contrary to a promise given by George W. Bush in 2004, he considered the bulk of settlements situated close to the 1967 borders, which Israelis believe they will keep even in the event of a peace deal, to be just as illegitimate as more controversial communities. In the hope of defusing the argument, Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to a freeze in these towns and villages while still maintaining that Jerusalem could not be treated in the same way. But Washington’s demand that the freeze be extended to eastern Jerusalem signals that Obama clearly believes that, like the big settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, the homes of the approximately 200,000 Jews who live in eastern Jerusalem are also on the table.

But despite the fact that Palestinian intransigence (strengthened by the belief that it is futile to talk, since the refusal to negotiate with Israel will only motivate Obama to press Israel harder) means his diplomatic offensive has virtually no chance of success, Obama has still done something that will permanently alter Middle Eastern diplomacy. By treating the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem as a vast, illegal settlement, the continued growth of which is an alleged impediment to peace, Obama has made it impossible for any Arab leader to ever accept Israel’s possession of this part of the city. This not only makes the already near-impossible task of forging peace that much harder, it is also a crushing blow to decades of Israeli and American Jewish efforts to foster international recognition of a unified Jerusalem.

This year, along with the conventional four questions of the Passover Seder, some Americans are starting ask themselves: “Why is this president different from all other presidents?” The answer is that Barack Obama has now established opposition to Israel’s hold on its capital as a cornerstone of American Middle East policy in a way that is completely new as well as dangerous. Those wondering whether this development ought to cause them to re-evaluate their political loyalties might want to remember the closing refrain of Passover Seders down through the centuries: “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

As the dispute between the Israel and the United States enters its third week, President Obama’s anger at Israel and his determination to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give in on the question of building in the eastern sector of Israel’s capital is apparently unabated.

Yet this is hardly the first dispute between the two countries. Every administration since 1967 has proposed peace plans and negotiating strategies that Israel disliked or actively resisted. Genuine friends such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as less friendly presidents such as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, all pushed hard at times for Israeli acceptance of unpalatable concessions. But in spite of these precedents, Barack Obama has managed to go where no American president has gone before. For all the problems created by all his predecessors about settlements in the West Bank, no previous American leader has ever chosen to draw a line in the sand about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

It is true that the United States never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of the city after Jerusalem’s unification in 1967. In fact, it has never even recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the new Jewish neighborhoods that sprang up along the northern, eastern, and southern outskirts of the city, as well as the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, were never a source of contention even during the presidencies of Carter and the elder Bush. Indeed, the notion that places such as Ramat Eshkol, Pisgat Zeev, Gilo, and even Ramat Shlomo (the site of the “insult” to Vice President Biden) are considered “settlements” by the United States and thus no different from the most remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank is something that has come as a complete surprise to most Israelis, let alone American supporters of Israel.

During the course of his first go at Netanyahu, Obama made it clear that, contrary to a promise given by George W. Bush in 2004, he considered the bulk of settlements situated close to the 1967 borders, which Israelis believe they will keep even in the event of a peace deal, to be just as illegitimate as more controversial communities. In the hope of defusing the argument, Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to a freeze in these towns and villages while still maintaining that Jerusalem could not be treated in the same way. But Washington’s demand that the freeze be extended to eastern Jerusalem signals that Obama clearly believes that, like the big settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, the homes of the approximately 200,000 Jews who live in eastern Jerusalem are also on the table.

But despite the fact that Palestinian intransigence (strengthened by the belief that it is futile to talk, since the refusal to negotiate with Israel will only motivate Obama to press Israel harder) means his diplomatic offensive has virtually no chance of success, Obama has still done something that will permanently alter Middle Eastern diplomacy. By treating the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem as a vast, illegal settlement, the continued growth of which is an alleged impediment to peace, Obama has made it impossible for any Arab leader to ever accept Israel’s possession of this part of the city. This not only makes the already near-impossible task of forging peace that much harder, it is also a crushing blow to decades of Israeli and American Jewish efforts to foster international recognition of a unified Jerusalem.

This year, along with the conventional four questions of the Passover Seder, some Americans are starting ask themselves: “Why is this president different from all other presidents?” The answer is that Barack Obama has now established opposition to Israel’s hold on its capital as a cornerstone of American Middle East policy in a way that is completely new as well as dangerous. Those wondering whether this development ought to cause them to re-evaluate their political loyalties might want to remember the closing refrain of Passover Seders down through the centuries: “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

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What Did You Do?

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

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RE: Bibi’s Note to Obama

Some polling information suggests that Obama is not endearing himself to the Israeli public, nor making any headway with his housing announcement eruption, if the goal was to undermine Bibi Netanyahu’s government:

A lopsided plurality of 42 percent of Israelis view U.S. President Barack Obama as pro-Arab, and only seven percent see him as pro-Israel, according to a new Brain Base (Maagar Mochot) poll released on Monday. Thirty-four percent of the respondents are reserving judgment, with a neutral view. . . .

Nearly two-thirds said they support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to continue to build in all of the capital city, while only 26 percent oppose it even though the majority also expressed the opinion that it will lead to more pressure from the United States.

A similar percentage of respondents believe that the Obama administration over-reacted to the announcement of progress in plans to build 1,600 new housing units in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. Only five percent of the respondents said that the American criticism of the project would help the diplomatic process, while 59 percent said the criticism will hurt the peace initiative. . .

A plurality of one-third expressed dissatisfaction with the American efforts to deal with the nuclear threat, and only 26 percent were satisfied.

It would seem that Obama’s cozying up to the Palestinians has given the Israelis the idea that, well, Obama is cozying up to the Palestinians — at their expense. The result, I think, is that Israelis will find it difficult to trust this American president to look after their security, whether it comes to the Palestinians or to the Iranian nuclear threat.

Some polling information suggests that Obama is not endearing himself to the Israeli public, nor making any headway with his housing announcement eruption, if the goal was to undermine Bibi Netanyahu’s government:

A lopsided plurality of 42 percent of Israelis view U.S. President Barack Obama as pro-Arab, and only seven percent see him as pro-Israel, according to a new Brain Base (Maagar Mochot) poll released on Monday. Thirty-four percent of the respondents are reserving judgment, with a neutral view. . . .

Nearly two-thirds said they support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to continue to build in all of the capital city, while only 26 percent oppose it even though the majority also expressed the opinion that it will lead to more pressure from the United States.

A similar percentage of respondents believe that the Obama administration over-reacted to the announcement of progress in plans to build 1,600 new housing units in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. Only five percent of the respondents said that the American criticism of the project would help the diplomatic process, while 59 percent said the criticism will hurt the peace initiative. . .

A plurality of one-third expressed dissatisfaction with the American efforts to deal with the nuclear threat, and only 26 percent were satisfied.

It would seem that Obama’s cozying up to the Palestinians has given the Israelis the idea that, well, Obama is cozying up to the Palestinians — at their expense. The result, I think, is that Israelis will find it difficult to trust this American president to look after their security, whether it comes to the Palestinians or to the Iranian nuclear threat.

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Bibi Responds

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds — the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds — the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

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How Grown-Ups Handle Middle East Diplomacy

In her many jaw-dropping assertions at AIPAC yesterday, Hillary Clinton intimated that the U.S. really had no choice but to throw a public temper tantrum over the Israelis’ housing-permit announcement. She proclaimed:

It is our devotion to this outcome – two states for two peoples, secure and at peace – that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem. This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it – and staying there until the job is done.

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.

Well, if not “wounded pride,” it was perhaps amateurism (unless we believe it was an intentional contrivance to impress the Obami’s Palestinian friends). American credibility doesn’t depend on blowing up at an ally in public over a routine housing announcement. If there is any doubt, Jackson Diehl offers a helpful reminder that in a similar situation, the Bush administration handled the matter discretely, preserved the “peace process,” and did not give the Arabs the notion that there was space between the U.S. and Israel. He writes:

The trick is not to let the provocation become the center of attention but instead to insist on proceeding with the negotiations. That is what [Condi] Rice did when news of the Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa broke. In public, she delivered a clear but relatively mild statement saying the United States had opposed the settlement “from the very beginning.” In private, she told Olmert: Don’t let that happen again. For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the message was equally blunt: You can come to the table and negotiate a border for a Palestinian state, making settlements irrelevant. Or you can boycott and let the building continue.

Not surprisingly, Abbas — who has taken Obama’s public assault on Israel as a cue to boycott — showed up for Rice’s negotiations. The Bush administration privately offered him an assurance: Any Israeli settlement construction that took place during the talks would not be accepted by the United States when it came time to draw a final Israeli border. On settlements, Rice adopted a pragmatic guideline she called the “Google Earth test”: A settlement that visibly expanded was a problem; one that remained within its existing territorial boundary was not.

So it wasn’t Israel’s announcement on Ramat Shlomo that highlighted “daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit,” but the ballistic reaction by Hillary and others.

And that “Google Earth test” to which Diehl refers (sometimes described as “up” and “in,” but not “out”) also suggests that the Obami have been less than credible themselves in adhering to past deals. Moreover, it further undermines another Clinton assertion: that any Israel building project prejudices a final outcome negotiation. The Bush team successfully maintained the position that final-status talks are, well, final-status talks at which the U.S. need not accept any Israeli construction as a fait accompli. (We’ve already seen that the Israelis, based on those very assurances, were willing to dismantle settlements in the West Bank.)

It really does take chutzpah for Hillary to tell AIPAC that Israel is the one putting daylight between it and the U.S. and to whine that it was Israel that forced the Obami to berate its ally. This is classic blame-the-victim talk. It ignores obvious and tried-and-true alternatives to the Obama smack-Israel tactics. It’s also pretty much par for the course for the Obami.

In her many jaw-dropping assertions at AIPAC yesterday, Hillary Clinton intimated that the U.S. really had no choice but to throw a public temper tantrum over the Israelis’ housing-permit announcement. She proclaimed:

It is our devotion to this outcome – two states for two peoples, secure and at peace – that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem. This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it – and staying there until the job is done.

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.

Well, if not “wounded pride,” it was perhaps amateurism (unless we believe it was an intentional contrivance to impress the Obami’s Palestinian friends). American credibility doesn’t depend on blowing up at an ally in public over a routine housing announcement. If there is any doubt, Jackson Diehl offers a helpful reminder that in a similar situation, the Bush administration handled the matter discretely, preserved the “peace process,” and did not give the Arabs the notion that there was space between the U.S. and Israel. He writes:

The trick is not to let the provocation become the center of attention but instead to insist on proceeding with the negotiations. That is what [Condi] Rice did when news of the Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa broke. In public, she delivered a clear but relatively mild statement saying the United States had opposed the settlement “from the very beginning.” In private, she told Olmert: Don’t let that happen again. For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the message was equally blunt: You can come to the table and negotiate a border for a Palestinian state, making settlements irrelevant. Or you can boycott and let the building continue.

Not surprisingly, Abbas — who has taken Obama’s public assault on Israel as a cue to boycott — showed up for Rice’s negotiations. The Bush administration privately offered him an assurance: Any Israeli settlement construction that took place during the talks would not be accepted by the United States when it came time to draw a final Israeli border. On settlements, Rice adopted a pragmatic guideline she called the “Google Earth test”: A settlement that visibly expanded was a problem; one that remained within its existing territorial boundary was not.

So it wasn’t Israel’s announcement on Ramat Shlomo that highlighted “daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit,” but the ballistic reaction by Hillary and others.

And that “Google Earth test” to which Diehl refers (sometimes described as “up” and “in,” but not “out”) also suggests that the Obami have been less than credible themselves in adhering to past deals. Moreover, it further undermines another Clinton assertion: that any Israel building project prejudices a final outcome negotiation. The Bush team successfully maintained the position that final-status talks are, well, final-status talks at which the U.S. need not accept any Israeli construction as a fait accompli. (We’ve already seen that the Israelis, based on those very assurances, were willing to dismantle settlements in the West Bank.)

It really does take chutzpah for Hillary to tell AIPAC that Israel is the one putting daylight between it and the U.S. and to whine that it was Israel that forced the Obami to berate its ally. This is classic blame-the-victim talk. It ignores obvious and tried-and-true alternatives to the Obama smack-Israel tactics. It’s also pretty much par for the course for the Obami.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they’ll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”

The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.

Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”

How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.

Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.

Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”

Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”

Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”

ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.

Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they’ll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”

The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.

Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”

How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.

Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.

Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”

Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”

Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”

ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.

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Bibi Seeks to Calm Obama

According to this report, Bibi is looking for ways to cool the Obami’s self-induced furor over the Jerusalem housing project:

Israel is willing to carry out trust-building moves in the West Bank in order to facilitate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

In a phone call between Netanyahu and Clinton, the Israeli PM reportedly conveyed a detailed list of gestures Jerusalem was willing to perform in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. … These measure likely include the release of Palestinian prisoners, the removal of West Bank checkpoints and perhaps even a willingness to transfer West Bank territories to PA control.

As for the housing activity that was the pretext for the spat, Jackson Diehl reports:

According to press reports in both countries, Clinton demanded in a phone call last Friday that Netanyahu reverse the decision by a local council to advance the construction of 1,600 new units in a neighborhood called Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood outside Israel’s 1967 borders. Fortunately the State Department has not confirmed that position officially — though it has now been adopted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a condition for proceeding with the talks.

Netanyahu would never take that step. First, he might be barred from doing so under Israeli law; more importantly, building new Jewish housing in Jerusalem is one of the few issues that virtually all Israelis agree on. No government would formally agree to suspend it — nor is such a suspension necessary to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Leading Israelis and Palestinians — including Abbas — have repeatedly agreed, beginning a decade ago, that as part of any final settlement Israel will annex the Jewish neighborhoods it has built in Jerusalem since 1967, as well as nearby settlements in the West Bank. In return Palestinians will exercise sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and receive compensatory land in Israel.

The Israeli hope is that rather than continue to press this self-defeating demand, Obama will accept Israeli assurances that the new neighborhood will not be constructed anytime soon; it is, in fact, two or three years from groundbreaking. Coupled to that would be an Israeli pledge to avoid publicizing further construction decisions in Jerusalem. The result would not be a freeze, but something like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for settlement.

In other words, Bibi is doing everything possible to allow the Obami to unwind from the snit they have worked themselves into over a housing issue that is, of course, entirely ignorable, as the suggested solution proves. And will he and the president meet when Bibi is in town for AIPAC, now that the president won’t be conveniently out of town? We don’t know. One hopes the president’s pique, so evident in the recent assault (the president’s “anger” was conveyed, the language of “affront” and “insult” was bantered about) will be put aside. For doesn’t the president — who’s shown himself to be particular peevish and lacking in diplomatic finesse — need to show he can make a gesture? It might be wise to bestir himself to invite Bibi over. And maybe even give him a photo op or two.

Oddly, I see no mention of trust-building moves demanded of the Palestinians after their calls to “rage” and the celebratory naming of a square after terrorist Dalal Mughrabi. Isn’t some gesture being asked of them? After all, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor assured me yesterday that “we are using our leverage.” But only with one side, for it’s foolhardy, I suppose the administration thinking goes, to actually ask anything of the Palestinians. And this is the posture going into the proximity talks — which were designed to satisfy the Palestinians who can’t bring themselves to accept Bibi’s invitation for direct talks. The infantilization of the Palestinians continues — they can’t control their own violence, so therefore we don’t demand they do. Just come to the proximity talks and George Mitchell will do all the work!

This is why no peace is ever processed. The Palestinians know that nothing is demanded of them and that they can riot in the streets, collect concessions, tout their success, foot-stomp some for more goodies, and wait for another round of concessions. Call it the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” It’s a formula for getting nowhere with the peace process. It’s also encouraging them to keep up the violence. Why shouldn’t they — there’s everything to be gained and nothing to be lost.

According to this report, Bibi is looking for ways to cool the Obami’s self-induced furor over the Jerusalem housing project:

Israel is willing to carry out trust-building moves in the West Bank in order to facilitate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

In a phone call between Netanyahu and Clinton, the Israeli PM reportedly conveyed a detailed list of gestures Jerusalem was willing to perform in order to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. … These measure likely include the release of Palestinian prisoners, the removal of West Bank checkpoints and perhaps even a willingness to transfer West Bank territories to PA control.

As for the housing activity that was the pretext for the spat, Jackson Diehl reports:

According to press reports in both countries, Clinton demanded in a phone call last Friday that Netanyahu reverse the decision by a local council to advance the construction of 1,600 new units in a neighborhood called Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood outside Israel’s 1967 borders. Fortunately the State Department has not confirmed that position officially — though it has now been adopted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a condition for proceeding with the talks.

Netanyahu would never take that step. First, he might be barred from doing so under Israeli law; more importantly, building new Jewish housing in Jerusalem is one of the few issues that virtually all Israelis agree on. No government would formally agree to suspend it — nor is such a suspension necessary to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Leading Israelis and Palestinians — including Abbas — have repeatedly agreed, beginning a decade ago, that as part of any final settlement Israel will annex the Jewish neighborhoods it has built in Jerusalem since 1967, as well as nearby settlements in the West Bank. In return Palestinians will exercise sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and receive compensatory land in Israel.

The Israeli hope is that rather than continue to press this self-defeating demand, Obama will accept Israeli assurances that the new neighborhood will not be constructed anytime soon; it is, in fact, two or three years from groundbreaking. Coupled to that would be an Israeli pledge to avoid publicizing further construction decisions in Jerusalem. The result would not be a freeze, but something like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for settlement.

In other words, Bibi is doing everything possible to allow the Obami to unwind from the snit they have worked themselves into over a housing issue that is, of course, entirely ignorable, as the suggested solution proves. And will he and the president meet when Bibi is in town for AIPAC, now that the president won’t be conveniently out of town? We don’t know. One hopes the president’s pique, so evident in the recent assault (the president’s “anger” was conveyed, the language of “affront” and “insult” was bantered about) will be put aside. For doesn’t the president — who’s shown himself to be particular peevish and lacking in diplomatic finesse — need to show he can make a gesture? It might be wise to bestir himself to invite Bibi over. And maybe even give him a photo op or two.

Oddly, I see no mention of trust-building moves demanded of the Palestinians after their calls to “rage” and the celebratory naming of a square after terrorist Dalal Mughrabi. Isn’t some gesture being asked of them? After all, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor assured me yesterday that “we are using our leverage.” But only with one side, for it’s foolhardy, I suppose the administration thinking goes, to actually ask anything of the Palestinians. And this is the posture going into the proximity talks — which were designed to satisfy the Palestinians who can’t bring themselves to accept Bibi’s invitation for direct talks. The infantilization of the Palestinians continues — they can’t control their own violence, so therefore we don’t demand they do. Just come to the proximity talks and George Mitchell will do all the work!

This is why no peace is ever processed. The Palestinians know that nothing is demanded of them and that they can riot in the streets, collect concessions, tout their success, foot-stomp some for more goodies, and wait for another round of concessions. Call it the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” It’s a formula for getting nowhere with the peace process. It’s also encouraging them to keep up the violence. Why shouldn’t they — there’s everything to be gained and nothing to be lost.

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Weathering the Storm

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

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Oren Explains, We Translate

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.'”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.'”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

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Why Obama Got Everything Wrong

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

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Obama’s Appalling Double Standards

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

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It Gets Worse

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ — “personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” — suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ — “personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” — suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

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They Haven’t Learned the Lesson

Last week, I wrote that American, European, and Arab success in pressuring the Palestinians to resume negotiations could prove a turnabout in the peace process, if the world learned the lesson and began pressing the Palestinians for necessary concessions on substantive issues. But based on its response to last week’s announcement of new construction in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the world clearly hasn’t learned the lesson.

All the parties concerned were understandably upset by the announcement’s timing: just as proximity talks were about to begin, and while Vice President Joe Biden was in the region. But substantively, the new construction makes absolutely no difference to the prospects of an agreement — because any agreement would unquestionably leave this neighborhood in Israel’s hands.

Ramat Shlomo already has more than 20,000 residents — far too big to be uprooted even without the planned 1,600 new houses. It is also, as Rick noted, of considerable strategic importance, dominating all of Jerusalem’s major roads; thus Israel would insist on retaining it, even if not a single Jew lived there. Finally, its location in no way precludes the division of Jerusalem, which is what both Washington and Europe claim to want: situated in the corner formed by two other huge Jewish neighborhoods to its west and south, it does not block a single Arab neighborhood from contiguity with a future Palestinian state.

Thus if Washington and Europe were serious about wanting an agreement, they would essentially tell the Palestinians: “Grow up. You can’t turn the clock back 43 years, so not everything that was Jordanian-occupied territory in May 1967 will eventually become Palestinian. Some of it will remain Israeli — and that includes Ramat Shlomo. Don’t waste time and energy fighting Israeli construction in areas that will never be part of Palestine; focus on fighting construction in areas that realistically could be Palestinian under any agreement.”

Instead, by their over-the-top condemnations, America and Europe have fed the Palestinians’ fantasy that they can turn the clock back — because the only way this new construction could be the enormous obstacle to an agreement that the world has labeled it is if Ramat Shlomo actually could and should become Palestinian.

Every serious negotiator for the last 17 years has recognized that any agreement will have to take account of developments since 1967. That’s why every serious peace proposal, from the Clinton plan in 2000 to Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, has involved Israel keeping about 6 percent of the West Bank (with or without territorial swaps). But the Palestinians still refuse to accept this fact: they continue to insist on swaps comprising at most 2 to 3 percent of the West Bank. That would force Israel to evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, which is both politically and economically unfeasible.

For any agreement to be possible, the world must finally make the Palestinians recognize that the clock cannot be turned back. By instead doing the opposite over Ramat Shlomo, Washington and Europe are undermining their own stated goal of achieving a peace deal.

Last week, I wrote that American, European, and Arab success in pressuring the Palestinians to resume negotiations could prove a turnabout in the peace process, if the world learned the lesson and began pressing the Palestinians for necessary concessions on substantive issues. But based on its response to last week’s announcement of new construction in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, the world clearly hasn’t learned the lesson.

All the parties concerned were understandably upset by the announcement’s timing: just as proximity talks were about to begin, and while Vice President Joe Biden was in the region. But substantively, the new construction makes absolutely no difference to the prospects of an agreement — because any agreement would unquestionably leave this neighborhood in Israel’s hands.

Ramat Shlomo already has more than 20,000 residents — far too big to be uprooted even without the planned 1,600 new houses. It is also, as Rick noted, of considerable strategic importance, dominating all of Jerusalem’s major roads; thus Israel would insist on retaining it, even if not a single Jew lived there. Finally, its location in no way precludes the division of Jerusalem, which is what both Washington and Europe claim to want: situated in the corner formed by two other huge Jewish neighborhoods to its west and south, it does not block a single Arab neighborhood from contiguity with a future Palestinian state.

Thus if Washington and Europe were serious about wanting an agreement, they would essentially tell the Palestinians: “Grow up. You can’t turn the clock back 43 years, so not everything that was Jordanian-occupied territory in May 1967 will eventually become Palestinian. Some of it will remain Israeli — and that includes Ramat Shlomo. Don’t waste time and energy fighting Israeli construction in areas that will never be part of Palestine; focus on fighting construction in areas that realistically could be Palestinian under any agreement.”

Instead, by their over-the-top condemnations, America and Europe have fed the Palestinians’ fantasy that they can turn the clock back — because the only way this new construction could be the enormous obstacle to an agreement that the world has labeled it is if Ramat Shlomo actually could and should become Palestinian.

Every serious negotiator for the last 17 years has recognized that any agreement will have to take account of developments since 1967. That’s why every serious peace proposal, from the Clinton plan in 2000 to Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008, has involved Israel keeping about 6 percent of the West Bank (with or without territorial swaps). But the Palestinians still refuse to accept this fact: they continue to insist on swaps comprising at most 2 to 3 percent of the West Bank. That would force Israel to evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, which is both politically and economically unfeasible.

For any agreement to be possible, the world must finally make the Palestinians recognize that the clock cannot be turned back. By instead doing the opposite over Ramat Shlomo, Washington and Europe are undermining their own stated goal of achieving a peace deal.

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Un-Smart Diplomacy

Friday’s State Department news conference lasted only 10 minutes and was devoted primarily to another harsh public condemnation of Israel:

Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ strong objections to Tuesday’s announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship – and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.

Netanyahu and his Interior minister had apologized after both said they had been unaware of the announcement beforehand, pledged there would be no actual building during the “proximity talks” or the anticipated period of any direct talks thereafter, and promised such an incident would not happen again. Only three days after, Clinton issued a statement as harsh as any from the Obama administration — on any issue, foreign or domestic. In it, she voiced “strong objections” to the “substance,” an accusation of a “deeply negative signal” about the “bilateral relationship,” an assertion that it undermined “trust and confidence” in “America’s interests,” an implicit rejection of Netanyahu’s explanation, and a demand for “specific actions” to show Israel is “committed” to its relationship with the U.S.

The harshness is an indication that the administration believes its only Middle East accomplishment in the last 14 months – an agreement to begin “proximity talks” – is in jeopardy. The U.S. demand for “specific actions” arises in the context of the Palestinians demanding, yet again, a Jerusalem building freeze as the price of their participation in discussions about giving them a state.

Since Secretary Clinton raised the “substance” of the issue, not simply the timing, it is worth noting several points. First, even actual building by Israel (much less the mere announcement of building in the future) would not have violated Israel’s commitment to a 10-month moratorium, which excluded Jerusalem. Second, the area in question is one that will not be yielded to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace agreement (even one that would divide sovereignty between Jewish and Arab areas) because it is a longstanding Jewish community, not an Arab one. Third, the area has military significance, for reasons explained (and illustrated with pictures) by Israel Matzav:

What … is obvious … is how important the ridge on which Ramat Shlomo sits would be in the case of any military conflict. That’s because it overlooks – and has a clean shot – at every major highway in the city. To give one example, there’s a road … known as “Road 9.” Road 9 … has three exits: Ramat Shlomo, the ‘Cedar Tunnel’ road that connects with the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv highway, and the road that is Menachem Begin Boulevard criss-crossing the city to the south and Route 443 to the north. Those roads are critical for city traffic. … an army unit stationed atop Ramat Shlomo would have a clear shot at every one of those roads (and more).

The Palestinians can be expected to seek advantage from any Israeli diplomatic blunder, asserting that their confidence needs to be built, their trust fortified, and their preconditions met before they will continue with a process they know the U.S. is more enthusiastic about than they. But it is unfortunate and counterproductive for the U.S. to lend itself to that tactic, both in general and specifically.

Friday’s State Department news conference lasted only 10 minutes and was devoted primarily to another harsh public condemnation of Israel:

Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ strong objections to Tuesday’s announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship – and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.

Netanyahu and his Interior minister had apologized after both said they had been unaware of the announcement beforehand, pledged there would be no actual building during the “proximity talks” or the anticipated period of any direct talks thereafter, and promised such an incident would not happen again. Only three days after, Clinton issued a statement as harsh as any from the Obama administration — on any issue, foreign or domestic. In it, she voiced “strong objections” to the “substance,” an accusation of a “deeply negative signal” about the “bilateral relationship,” an assertion that it undermined “trust and confidence” in “America’s interests,” an implicit rejection of Netanyahu’s explanation, and a demand for “specific actions” to show Israel is “committed” to its relationship with the U.S.

The harshness is an indication that the administration believes its only Middle East accomplishment in the last 14 months – an agreement to begin “proximity talks” – is in jeopardy. The U.S. demand for “specific actions” arises in the context of the Palestinians demanding, yet again, a Jerusalem building freeze as the price of their participation in discussions about giving them a state.

Since Secretary Clinton raised the “substance” of the issue, not simply the timing, it is worth noting several points. First, even actual building by Israel (much less the mere announcement of building in the future) would not have violated Israel’s commitment to a 10-month moratorium, which excluded Jerusalem. Second, the area in question is one that will not be yielded to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace agreement (even one that would divide sovereignty between Jewish and Arab areas) because it is a longstanding Jewish community, not an Arab one. Third, the area has military significance, for reasons explained (and illustrated with pictures) by Israel Matzav:

What … is obvious … is how important the ridge on which Ramat Shlomo sits would be in the case of any military conflict. That’s because it overlooks – and has a clean shot – at every major highway in the city. To give one example, there’s a road … known as “Road 9.” Road 9 … has three exits: Ramat Shlomo, the ‘Cedar Tunnel’ road that connects with the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv highway, and the road that is Menachem Begin Boulevard criss-crossing the city to the south and Route 443 to the north. Those roads are critical for city traffic. … an army unit stationed atop Ramat Shlomo would have a clear shot at every one of those roads (and more).

The Palestinians can be expected to seek advantage from any Israeli diplomatic blunder, asserting that their confidence needs to be built, their trust fortified, and their preconditions met before they will continue with a process they know the U.S. is more enthusiastic about than they. But it is unfortunate and counterproductive for the U.S. to lend itself to that tactic, both in general and specifically.

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Biden in Public and Private

Joe Biden delivered his much-anticipated (and we are told, tweaked) speech in Israel today. It was the usual mix of what we have come to expect from the Obami — broad declarations of support for Israel mixed with an obsessive desire to move forward on the “peace process” and a fixation on building activity. On Iran, Biden pronounced, “The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period.” But how, and what options remain? He didn’t say.  As for East Jerusalem, the vice president harped on what he deemed the “hardest truth.” That is parlance for the Obami’s insistence that it is building in Israel’s capital, not the persistence of terrorism or the refusal to recognize the Jewish state, that serves to “undermine trust.” As skewed and as unwelcome as much of that public message was to many onlookers here and in Israel, what went on in private was jaw-dropping. We are told:

While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone.

People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.

It’s hard to fathom that the vice president would make such a claim. Aside from its nonsensical quality (Does the Taliban attack the U.S. because of apartment building in East Jerusalem?), it is precisely the sort of ill-conceived, bullying message that certainly must convince the Israelis not to place their trust in the American negotiators. On a happier note, Biden left Israel today.

Joe Biden delivered his much-anticipated (and we are told, tweaked) speech in Israel today. It was the usual mix of what we have come to expect from the Obami — broad declarations of support for Israel mixed with an obsessive desire to move forward on the “peace process” and a fixation on building activity. On Iran, Biden pronounced, “The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period.” But how, and what options remain? He didn’t say.  As for East Jerusalem, the vice president harped on what he deemed the “hardest truth.” That is parlance for the Obami’s insistence that it is building in Israel’s capital, not the persistence of terrorism or the refusal to recognize the Jewish state, that serves to “undermine trust.” As skewed and as unwelcome as much of that public message was to many onlookers here and in Israel, what went on in private was jaw-dropping. We are told:

While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone.

People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.

It’s hard to fathom that the vice president would make such a claim. Aside from its nonsensical quality (Does the Taliban attack the U.S. because of apartment building in East Jerusalem?), it is precisely the sort of ill-conceived, bullying message that certainly must convince the Israelis not to place their trust in the American negotiators. On a happier note, Biden left Israel today.

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