When Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post attacks Obama’s outrage over the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee’s decision to approve the construction of 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo (a post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhood) as “ideological - and vindictive,” you know that Obama has made a serious political blunder.
The administration has apparently decided to provoke a diplomatic crisis with Israel over a construction project that was plainly in keeping with past U.S.-Israeli undertakings concerning East Jerusalem.
Israel’s official position for the last forty years has been that East Jerusalem’s status will not be negotiable in any future land-swap agreement with the Palestinians.
This policy, however distasteful it may be to the Obama Administration, did not prevent the conclusion of peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, nor did it preclude the Palestinians from negotiating with Israel for more than fifteen years after the Oslo Accords of 1993. Now, suddenly, it has become a major issue with this administration, and an impediment to world peace.
Apparently, a zoning dispute in Israel’s capital city is more important than addressing the nuclear threat posed by Iran.
This dispute has affected American credibility with Israel, our European and Asian allies, as well as the Arab and Iranian world. As Robert Kagan notes in the Washington Post: “The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute -- and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.”
As a consequence, Netanyahu has been threatened with diplomatic isolation -- a taste of which he encountered during his recent visit to the White House. Dictators and tyrants have received better treatment.
The Obama Administration seems to see Israel as obstructionist, defiant and intransigent. Since evidently Obama could not coerce Israel to acquiesce to his demands through quiet pressure, he brought such pressure into the public domain by insisting upon demands to which no Israeli government can acquiesce -- demands that include giving the U.S. a veto over any Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations. To enforce this demand, Obama ordered an embargo of the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) -- the super bunker-buster bombs that he had earlier promised to Israel. These munitions have since been diverted to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
This is not the first time the current U.S. administration has interfered with Israel’s qualitative military edge. A January 2010 Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) Report notes that “the White House has so far blocked key weapons projects and upgrades for Israel, rejecting requests for AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters while approving advanced F-16 multi-role fighters for Egypt …. Israel’s request for the six AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters was blocked by the Obama Administration in June -- the same time the Egyptian sale was approved.”
Obama also told Netanyahu to tow the line on his foreign policy by demanding that Israel hand over areas adjacent to Jerusalem (specifically Abu-Dis, where Palestinian government institutions were previously established) to exclusive PA control; cease all Jewish construction in East Jerusalem; give serious consideration to releasing 1,000 convicted Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons “as a goodwill gesture;” establish a Palestinian state within the next two years (which could allow for the deployment of U.S. forces who would inhibit Israeli counter-terrorism operations in Judea and Samaria); renew peace talks with Syria; agree to negotiate the partition of Jerusalem; withdraw from West Bank “settlements,” disputed territoried included; and agree to the “right of return” of hostile foreign Arabs to pre-1948 Israel.
For some unfathomable reason, Obama does not yet understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not territorial. It is existential. Yet, the consequences arising from Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza; the continuous incitement taking place in Palestinian society through its mosques, media, schools, and government sponsored events, and the enormous concessions -- rejected by Mahmoud Abbas – that the governments of Barak (2000) and Olmert (2008) were prepared to make on both Jerusalem and the West Bank prior to the Second Intifada, together with Israel’s continuing efforts to negotiate a durable and lasting peace, are rarely if ever mentioned by this Administration.
Netanyahu’s acquiescence to a Palestinian state, a ten-month moratorium on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria that specifically excluded Jerusalem (a fact this Administration now dismisses), and the dismantling of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks apparently means nothing to an administration whose long term strategy seems to demonstrate to America’s enemies that the U.S. is prepared to force a Czechoslovakian type of deal on Israel to concede everything, while giving the Palestinians a pass -- including their dedication of tournaments, streets, marketplaces and a town square outside Ramallah to “martyrs” whose sole “accomplishments” have been slaughtering Israeli men, women and children.
One explanation is the desire of this administration to demonstrate to our enemies that there is no length to which it will not go to betray its friends in the name of “peace.” Under such circumstances, why should the Palestinians agree to negotiate with Israel when they are content to watch a U.S. administration extract concessions significantly greater than any they could ever hope to achieve though bilateral talks?
Diehl’s editorial in the Washington Post lays the blame for the current crisis squarely on President Obama, whom it accuses of treating Netanyahu “as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons, but conspicuously held at arms length.” Diehl goes on to say: “Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun….A new administration can be excused for making such a mistake in the treacherous and complex theater of Middle East diplomacy. That’s why Obama was given a pass by many when he made exactly the same mistake last year. The second time around, the president doesn’t look naive. He appears ideological - and vindictive.”
And, according to Caroline Glick: “Obama has pocketed Netanyahu’s concessions and escalated his demands …… With the U.S. President treating Israel like an enemy, the Palestinians have no reason to agree to sit down and negotiate.”
The fact is that neither George Mitchell nor Hillary Clinton nor Robert Gates, nor the president himself has obtained a single concession from the Palestinian Authority -- not one. The President has spent more time provoking our friends than he has challenging our enemies. His constant attempts to engage with Iran, Syria and Turkey combined with his delay in signing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, suggest that he views developing U.S. relations with these anti-American regimes as his primary foreign policy goal. Given that each of these leaders has demanded that in exchange for better relations, Obama must abandon Israel as a U.S. ally, his recent behavior can be explained in strategic terms rather than as pique over new apartment buildings in Jerusalem.
Seeing a potential break between Washington and Jerusalem, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have done everything possible to undermine the U.S.-Israeli relationship even more.
Palestinian incitement and violence against Israel and Jews have increased as we have seen in renewed missile attacks from Gaza and Arab riots across Israel and the West Bank. And why not?
If the Obama Administration is to adopt the policies of Israel’s enemies, how can Israel’s enemies be any less aggressive than the president of the United States? As a result, the Administration’s constant affirmations of its commitment to Israel’s security -- from Obama in Washington, to Mitchell and Biden in Israel, to Clinton at the AIPAC Conference last month –- ring hollow.
The Obama Administration had best not delude itself: The Arab Street will never support America.
*****When the U.S. distances itself from Israel, it does not win influence with the Arab world. It only justifies the Arab world backing away from any peace settlement. Moreover, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will not solve America’s problems with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or al-Qaeda contrary to statements issued by some Administration officials.
The Obama Administration has jeopardized not Israel’s stature, but its own regional interests and its international credibility.
As Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus said in his testimony before Congress recently: “Even if the U.S. were to announce a total military and economic boycott of Israel tomorrow, nothing would induce radical Islamists to lay down arms against America. Even if America joined the global jihad and offered to fight shoulder to shoulder with al-Qaeda, the extremists would not accept the offer, and give up their attacks against U.S. targets. For extremist regimes like Iran, Israel is a secondary target. Their main problem is the Western world and its leader, the United States.”
Obama says Israel must prove that it is committed to peace. It is unfortunate that his Administration is not making the same demands of the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Iranians. Israeli settlements are not the root of America’s woes.