Thursday, March 18, 2010

Four (Make that Six) Perspectives on Current U.S.-Israel Imbroglio

For Israel and America, a Disagreement, Not a Crisis - Michael B. Oren
(New York Times)
Even the closest allies can sometimes disagree. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the U.S. 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 U.S. Israel is dedicated to both. Israel's policy on Jerusalem 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. Israel's policy on Jerusalem did not preclude the conclusion of peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Nor did it prevent the Palestinians from negotiating with Israel for more than 15 years after the Oslo accords of 1993. Consistently, Israelis have demonstrated remarkable flexibility as well as generosity to any Arab leader genuinely offering peace.
Michael Oren is Israel's ambassador to the U.S.

American Credibility at Stake in Showdown over Jerusalem Construction - Hillel Halkin
Four months ago, Israel and the U.S. concluded an argument regarding Israeli construction in the West Bank and former Jordanian Jerusalem with a compromise that neither government was particularly happy about: 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. Yet however reluctant this acceptance was, America made it clear that it considered the Israeli position enough of a concession to push the "peace process" forward and that it was willing to live with it. 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. Basically, it is saying: "We agreed to a compromise? So what if we did? Now you've insulted us and we're taking our agreement back." This is a grave mistake. And it is gravest of all for the "peace process" that President Obama claims to be so eager to restart. The next time an American president asks Israelis to count on America, he might ask himself: Why on earth should they? (New York Sun)

How About an Arab "Settlement" Freeze? - Ruth R. Wisse
It is unfortunate that Arabs obsess about building in Israel rather than aiming for the development of their own superabundant lands. Ramat Shlomo, the neighborhood at the center of the present altercation, is actually in northern Jerusalem, west of the Jewish neighborhood of Ramot, home to 40,000 Jewish residents. Why does the White House take issue with the construction of housing for Jewish citizens within the boundaries of their own country? Any peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict will begin with a hard look at the map of the region in which 21 countries with 800 times more land are consumed with their Jewish neighbors' natural increase. (Wall Street Journal)

Was Obama's Confrontation with Israel Premeditated? - Yossi Klein Halevi
(New Republic)
Ramat Shlomo, located between the Jewish neighborhoods of French Hill and Ramot, will remain within the boundaries of Israeli Jerusalem according to every peace plan. Building in the established Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem defines the Israeli national consensus. 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.
Every Israeli government over the last four decades has built in the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem; no government, let alone one headed by the Likud, could possibly agree to a freeze there. Obama made resumption of negotiations hostage to a demand that could not be met. Obama's demand for a building freeze in Jerusalem led to a freeze in negotiations. It is pique disguised as policy.
In turning an incident into a crisis, Obama has convinced many Israelis that he was merely seeking a pretext to pick a fight with Israel. 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. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62% of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20% blame Netanyahu.
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. To the fictitious notion of a peace process, Obama has now added the fiction of an intransigent Israel blocking the peace process.
The writer is a senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

Why Is Obama So Upset with Israel? - Marty Peretz
The Israelis will not allow the future of Jerusalem to be decided by a riot-backed fiat of the Muslims, whose claims on the city are inflated. OK, I will concede that Muhammad did ride his winged steed Al Buraq on his Night Journey to Jerusalem and, from there, ascended on a ladder to see Moses and Jesus in heaven. Otherwise, however, Jerusalem is to Islam what any other city with a big mosque is. And this particular city was ignored over the many centuries and especially when it was under the dominion of King Hussein of Jordan. But it lives centrally and vividly as the City of David to his people and to the faithful of Jesus who walked there - that is, in the two traditions whose cardinal books are centered in Zion. Jerusalem becomes sacred to Muslims when it is governed by Jews or Christians, Jews in particular. The fact is that neither George Mitchell nor Hillary Clinton nor the president himself has wrangled a single concession from the Palestinian Authority, not one. In fact, the whole structure of the talks is built on yet another concession from Israel. Proximity talks are a big retreat from reality, when the Palestinians want only to talk with the Americans. Obama seems to think that he is the superego of the conflict and that his function is to hand out dicta on how to end it. But he has no dicta for the Palestinians and plenty for the Israelis. The fact is that he does not particularly like Israel. (New Republic)

Crime and punishment
By deliberately inflating the Ramat Shlomo issue into a public crisis of faith in its ally, the Obama administration has encouraged Israel’s enemies.

By deliberately inflating the Ramat Shlomo issue into a public crisis of faith in its ally, the Obama administration has given encouragement to Israel’s enemies, turned more of Israel’s dwindling ranks of friends against us, and potentially put every Israeli’s life in a little more danger.The original Ramat Shlomo sin was Binyamin Netanyahu’s. And it was serious.Not the “sin” of pursuing an Israeli government policy to build in Jerusalem. Agree with it or not, assert that it is Israel’s sovereign imperative or foolishly antagonistic, but either way it’s Israel’s decision.No, the sin lay in announcing that you’re expanding a Jewish east Jerusalem neighborhood on the very day that one of your very best friends in the problematic administration of your most important strategic ally is in town for a goodwill visit. The sin lay in announcing the move when you know it runs counter to American policy, announcing it without warning, having assured the administration that you won’t surprise it with controversial actions as it struggles to mediate a resumption of the negotiations you seek with the Palestinians. And the sin was exacerbated because you’d already made exactly the same blunder before – releasing plans for the expansion of Gilo immediately after meeting with the president four months ago – and when you’d promised the president, after that screw-up, that you’d taken steps to prevent a recurrence.Only those who lack so much as a passing familiarity with the running of the current Israeli government would question the authenticity of the embarrassed prime minister’s apology to Joe Biden, and his pleading assurance that he’d had no idea, ahead of time, that the Interior Ministry’s local planning committee was formally approving the construction of 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo at the very height of the Biden visit. Only those who lack so much as that passing familiarity find it impossible to believe that Eli Yishai, the interior minister, was not routinely alerted to such sensitive decisions in advance, and that Netanyahu had himself failed to put the appropriate warning systems into place, even after the November precedent. Of course such foolish incompetence is plausible. It can happen in some of the most efficient and best-run hierarchies, and few would describe the Israeli government as one of those.Only those who insistently think the worst of Netanyahu, furthermore, could so much as contemplate that he would have done this deliberately. The last thing he would have wanted to do is embarrass Biden.The last thing he would have wanted to do is provoke a major controversy over construction in east Jerusalem, having resisted US pressure to halt all building there, and being thoroughly aware of the incendiary nature of the issue. He’s not a pyromaniac. Only days before, he had telephoned Nir Barkat to quash the mayor’s plans for a controversial redevelopment plan in Silwan, just outside the Old City, that would have involved the demolition of dozens of illegally built Arab homes: “Drop it, Nir, it’s the last thing we need right now,” he essentially told the mayor in a telephone call shortly before Barkat was to address a press conference announcing the project.The last thing he would have wanted to do was draw presidential and international attention to Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood founded by the would-be peacemaking Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 that hardly anyone outside Israel had even heard of before last week, where 20,000 Israeli Jews had made their homes, hitherto headline-free.All previous prime ministers in recent decades have built in east Jerusalem, Netanyahu noted accurately in the Knesset earlier this week, in a plaintive attempt at defense that amounted to an inadvertent admission of incompetence: Yes, all previous prime ministers had built in east Jerusalem – without incurring the incandescent fury of Israel’s best ally, without bringing the roof down. And you, Mr. Netanyahu, who merely wanted to add more homes to an existing, large, thriving neighborhood – in an area of the city, between French Hill and Ramot, that Mahmoud Abbas would never have contemplated coming under Palestinian control – managed through spectacular ineptitude to bring that long-term enterprise to a juddering halt.


George Jochnowitz said...

Anti-Zionism, which has always been powerful, is becoming ever more intense all over the world. It is an example of mass hysteria. Eugene Ionesco wrote about this in his play RHINOCEROS. Ionesco was thinking about Hitler when he wrote his play, but the phenomenon he calls "rhinoceritis" is a recurring danger.

Unknown said...

How about a seventh, from Charles Krauthammer in today's Washington Post? Here's an excerpt, but it's worth reading the original article all the way to the end:

Why did President Obama choose to turn a gaffe into a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations?
And a gaffe it was: the announcement by a bureaucrat in Israel's Interior Ministry of a housing expansion in a Jewish neighborhood in north Jerusalem. The timing could not have been worse: Vice President Biden was visiting, Jerusalem is a touchy subject, and you don't bring up touchy subjects that might embarrass an honored guest. But it was no more than a gaffe. It was certainly not a policy change, let alone a betrayal. The neighborhood is in Jerusalem, and the 2009 Netanyahu-Obama agreement was for a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements excluding Jerusalem.
Nor was the offense intentional. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not know about this move -- step four in a seven-step approval process for construction that, at best, will not even start for two to three years.
Nonetheless the prime minister is responsible. He apologized to Biden for the embarrassment. When Biden left Israel on March 11, the apology appeared accepted and the issue resolved. The next day, however, the administration went nuclear. After discussing with the president specific language she would use, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu to deliver a hostile and highly aggressive 45-minute message that the Biden incident had created an unprecedented crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. Clinton's spokesman then publicly announced that Israel was required to show in word and in deed its seriousness about peace.
In these long and bloody 63 years, the Palestinians have not once accepted an Israeli offer of permanent peace, or ever countered with anything short of terms that would destroy Israel. They insist instead on a 'peace process' -- now in its 17th post-Oslo year and still offering no credible Palestinian pledge of ultimate coexistence with a Jewish state -- the point of which is to extract preemptive Israeli concessions, such as a ban on Jewish construction in parts of Jerusalem conquered by Jordan in 1948, before negotiations for a real peace have even begun.
Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its gross domestic product is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called 'unprecedented.'
What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency? Not one. Indeed, long before the Biden incident, Abbas refused even to resume direct negotiations with Israel. That's why the Obama administration has to resort to "proximity talks" -- a procedure that sets us back 35 years to before Anwar Sadat's groundbreaking visit to Jerusalem.
And Clinton demands that Israel show its seriousness about peace?
Now that's an insult.

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