TOUGH LOVE IS NO LOVE AT ALL:
Why Obama's Approach to Israel Is Collapsing, Rapidly
By Dr. Steven J. Rosen
Barack Obama himself addressed the issue in a meeting with American Jewish leaders on July 13, 2009. Asked if it were a mistake to let "sunlight" show between the United States and Israel, the U.S. President demurred, "We had no sunlight for eight years, but no progress either."
Obama's conclusion that former U.S. President George W. Bush achieved nothing by working with Israel is amazing, considering that Bush brought the father of the Israeli settler movement, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw every soldier and every settler from every square inch of Gaza in August, 2005, in the largest test of the "land for peace" concept in Israeli-Palestinian history. You would think the experience of the Bush years would have led the Obama team to an opposite conclusion: If settlements had been the obstacle to peace, why did Sharon's removal of 8,000 settlers from 21 settlements lead to the rise of Hamas, thousands of Qassam rockets fired at Israel, and war instead of peace?
And they might reflect on the testimony of Elliott Abrams, who negotiated the Bush administration's compromises on the natural growth of settlements that the Obama team now disavows. "There were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank," Abrams wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
And they should heed the words of Sharon's negotiator in that bargain, Dov Weisglass:
The theory of "tough love" toward Israel is also failing the test, if it is intended to win concessions from the Palestinian side. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who just completed intensive negotiations with an outgoing Ehud Olmert government that was continuing "natural growth" of settlements within the agreed Bush limits, now says the incoming Benjamin Netanyahu government must "stop all settlement activities in order to resume peace talks over final status issues." His chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, adds, "There can be no half-solutions with regards to the settlements."
This is a hardening of the Palestinian position. Abbas did not cut off negotiations when Olmert said publicly to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in April, 2008:
Abbas continued meeting with the Olmert government. In fact, Erekat boasted to a Jordanian newspaper a few weeks ago that he and Abbas achieved considerable progress with the Olmert government between the November, 2007, Annapolis talks and the end of 2008 in as many as 288 negotiation sessions by 12 committees -- all while the limited growth permitted by the Bush understandings continued.
Now, Obama has generated inflated and unsatisfiable expectations in the Arab world, a belief that the U.S. President can and will force total Israeli capitulation and an absolute freeze. The Los Angeles Times reports: "President Obama's public quarrel with Israel ... is developing into a test of the U.S. leader's international credibility, say foreign diplomats and other observers." Anything less than a 100 percent halt "will not only disappoint the Arabs whom the President has courted, but also will be read by adversaries around the globe as a signal that the President can be forced to back down." Or, as Erekat himself put it on Voice of Palestine radio, "If settlement continues ... Arabs and Palestinians [will] believe that the American administration is incapable of swaying Israel to halt its settlement activities." A prominent Palestinian observer, Ghassan Khatib, states: "Should the U.S. government ... fail to make Israel abide by its international commitments, especially regarding ending the expansion of settlements, it will sabotage efforts to renew the political process."
The Obama people might actually learn something from Abrams, who warns that, when, eventually, there is a compromise between the Obama and Netanyahu governments regarding settlements, the two sides will put "contrasting spins" on the agreement for their respective audiences. It will be difficult for the Obama administration to explain why there are what will be depicted by critics as loopholes. Maybe then they will ask themselves whether they were wise to do it with a public fight?
For now, they are still on the wrong track. Days ago, Israel's new ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was warned that the United States wants a halt to construction of 20 apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Netanyahu responded: "There is no ban on Arabs buying apartments in the west of the city, and there is no ban on Jews building or buying in the city's east." How could the administration believe that any major Israeli political party could possibly agree to making any part of Jerusalem Judenrein? Just how far do they plan to go with this policy of confrontation?
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Dr. Steven J. Rosen served for 23 years as Foreign Policy Director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and was a defendant in the recently dismissed AIPAC case. He is now Director of the Washington Project at the Middle East Forum. He earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Diplomacy.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rosen was originally published in Foreign Policy.com, July 21, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2407/obama-israel-tough-love)
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