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Monday, November 22, 2010

Obama's bad precedents

Elliott Abrams and Michael Singh explain where President Obama's proposal for a 'settlement freeze' extension differs - dangerously - from what's been proposed by previous administrations.
The most worrying aspect of Obama's package is the linkages it establishes between Israeli concessions on settlements (and apparently on the pace of construction in Jerusalem as well) and other unrelated policy matters. Washington has long opposed, and frequently vetoed, U.N. Security Council initiatives targeting Israel. The United States has done so not out of a sense of charity, but because the anti-Israel resolutions were unconstructive, unhelpful, and unprincipled. The suggestion that unless there is a construction freeze America will no longer do so will make it far harder for U.S. negotiators to defeat or soften drafts put forward in the council in future years, and encourage further assaults on Israel there. Leaving Israel undefended in the United Nations will make successful negotiations less, not more, likely, for an Israel that is under constant attack will batten down the hatches not "take risks for peace."

More disturbing still is the explicit connection between U.S. security assistance to Israel and the settlement freeze. The offer of additional fighter jets can be interpreted two ways: First, the Obama administration may believe that the jets are unnecessary to Israeli security, and is merely offering them as a sweetener, at a cost of $3 billion to U.S. taxpayers -- or about $33 million for each day of the freeze. The second, more ominous explanation is that the United States believes the jets are important to Israel's security and the two countries' shared interests, but is using them as pressure to tidy up a diplomatic mess of its own making. As much as Israeli officials may desire the additional hardware, particularly in light of the growing threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, they will no doubt think long and hard before setting this precedent.

Obama's promise not to seek another construction freeze after the next 90-day moratorium also suggests that his administration has yet to diagnose correctly what ails its Middle East peacemaking efforts. An agreement for a freeze, with an allowance for "inward" growth of existing settlements, was reached between former President George W. Bush and former Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. The Bush administration was quick to protest when that understanding was violated -- a reaction that sometimes led to tension between the two countries.

The interest in stopping construction in settlements that would make final status talks harder is not what differentiates the Bush and Obama administrations. Rather, it is the public and strident manner in which the Obama administration has conveyed U.S. demands, and its neglect of Israeli political realities. The Obama administration has sought a total freeze as a precondition for negotiations; what is needed instead is a return to the agreements reached in previous years, which the Obama team ignored in its "anything but Bush" phase.

Obama's departures from sensible policy would be easier for him to defend if the return were sufficient. But the premise of the U.S. offer -- that within 90 days the Israelis and Palestinians can conclude a preliminary agreement on borders, rendering the settlement issue moot -- beggars belief.

So now Kurtzer and Abrams - from opposite ends of the spectrum - have both said it. This is a dangerously bad deal for Israel. Will anyone here listen?

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At 9:34 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The majority of the Cabinet is listening and the majority of the Likud is against it. There is no one in Israel who thinks anything would be achieved with a three month extension. And doing it to get a couple of planes strikes one as both bad policy and bad politics.


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