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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Obama still doesn't get it on 'settlements'

By now, you would have thought that President Obama would have figured out that continuing to push Israel on 'settlements' is the wrong way to go. But he hasn't figured it out yet says... Richard Cohen!?! (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
We will see if the end of the moratorium means the end of peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not -- or not yet -- ended negotiations. He's going to confer with his fellow Arab leaders. In the meantime, Obama ought to confer with someone who knows the region -- and listen to him or her. Trouble is, many experts have told him that his emphasis on settlements was the wrong way to go. As late as last week and the succession of meetings held at the United Nations, it was clear that Netanyahu would not ask his Cabinet to extend the settlement freeze. Yet not only did the White House reject this warning, the president repeated his call for a freeze. "Our position on this issue is well-known," Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. "We believe that the moratorium should be extended." Well, it wasn't.

From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews.


The Obama approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been counterproductive. Either the Palestinians have to back down from their -- even more importantly, Obama's -- insistence that all settlements be frozen in place or Netanyahu has to back down from his pledge that any moratorium would be temporary. Either Abbas or Netanyahu has to lose credibility and neither man can afford to. They are not mere negotiators; they are heads of government.

Obama, too, has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give. It was bad diplomacy, recalling neither Metternich nor Kissinger but the ol' professor and his question about the inept Mets. The answer, so far, is no.
I don't believe that Obama is capable of changing his approach because he sees displacing Israel from its historic homeland (or at least the more historic parts of it) as a fierce moral imperative. I believe he understands perfectly well how many Israelis (and unlike Cohen, I would argue it is a majority) feel about the Jewish history in places like Hebron and Shilo and Beit El and Shchem and Bethlehem, but Obama doesn't care.

What could go wrong?


At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The emphasis on settlements is symbolic of the "1967 borders".

At 7:00 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Netanyahu has also made all the concessions he could give and his party is well to the right of him. Unlike Sharon, there is a limit to how far he can go to the Left and still survive in office.

And while Tzipi Livni could impose a freeze, its highly unlikely she could rally the country around any eventual peace agreement, assuming the Palestinians agreed to one.

The point is Obama really doesn't know much about how Israeli politics work and why lots of Israelis are turned off to the "peace process." And most of them don't read Haaretz, like international elites do, who are not aware at all of how the real Israel thinks.


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