Monday, 5 April 2010

Israel Matzav: Obama's foolish innovation

Obama's foolish innovation

Shana tova, a good year to everyone.

President Obama thought he had a great innovation when he decided to demand a full 'settlement freeze' from Israel, including 'east' Jerusalem. But as Steve Rosen points out, all Obama has done is to ensure that no negotiations between Israel and the 'Palestinians' can take place.

The record is clear and consistent: The United States has never liked Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, and frequently stated that it complicated the peace process. But until Obama, no U.S. president had made its cancelation a precondition for negotiations, and until Obama, Palestinian leaders including Abbas did not make it a precondition either. For 19 years -- from the Madrid conference of October 1991 through the Olmert/Abbas negotiations that ended in 2008, negotiations moved forward while Jerusalem construction continued. Madrid, Oslo I, Oslo II, the Hebron Protocol, the Wye River Memorandum, Camp David, Taba, the disengagement from Gaza, and the Olmert offer to Abbas -- all these events over the course of two decades were made possible by a continuing agreement to disagree about Israeli construction of Jewish homes in Jewish neighborhoods outside the pre-1967 line in East Jerusalem.

Today, for the first time in 19 years, we have an aministration unable to produce Israeli-Palestinian negotiations . Abbas is following Obama's lead in demanding an unprecedented precondition that Israel cannot satisfy. This is the same Abbas who negotiated with seven previous Israeli prime ministers -- Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu (in his first term), Barak, Sharon, and Olmert, without the precondition that he now demands of Netanyahu. We have a crisis. Netanyahu is doing something that every past Israeli prime minister of the left and right has done, but Obama is doing something that past American leaders considered unwise. It is the U.S. behavior that has changed.

At this moment, Obama's decision to confront Netanyahu about construction in Jerusalem wins wide praise. Whether Obama's policy will still look good in six months, when people realize he has mired the negotiations in quicksand, remains to be seen.

Obama would do better to take the advice of his own Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, who wisely told PBS host Charlie Rose, "For the Israelis, what they're building in is in part of Israel. Now, the others don't see it that way. So you have these widely divergent perspectives on the subject. Our view is, let's get into negotiations, let's deal with the issues and come up with a solution to all of them including Jerusalem. ... The Israelis are not going to stop settlements in or construction in East Jerusalem. ... There are disputed legal issues. ... And we could spend the next 14 years arguing over disputed legal issues or we can try to get a negotiation to resolve them in a manner that meets the aspirations of both societies."

Israel Matzav: Obama's foolish innovation

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