Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl: Obama Should End Pressure On Israel
June 30, 2009


Obama policy makes Palestinian

compliance even less likely




The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has noted the powerful opinion piece yesterday by the left-leaning Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, entitled, ‘End the Spat with Israel,’ in which Mr. Diehl argues that the Obama Administration has painted itself into a corner by pressuring Israel to agree to a total freeze on all Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. As a result, Arab parties, like the Palestinian Authority (AP) see no reason to implement their Oslo and Roadmap commitments to arrest terrorists, dismantle terror groups and to end the incitement to hatred and murder within the PA-controlled, media, mosques, schools and youth camps that feed terror.


Excerpts from Jackson Diehl’s June 29 column:


President Obama began with a broad strategy of simultaneously pressing Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to take concrete steps toward peace. By the time Iranians took to the streets, it had allowed that broad front to be narrowed to a single point: a standoff with the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu over whether “natural growth” would be allowed in Jewish settlements outside Israel’s 1967 borders… starting with a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in May, the administration made the mistake of insisting that an Israeli settlement “freeze” — a term the past three administrations agreed to define loosely — must mean a total stop to all construction in the West Bank and even East Jerusalem.


This absolutist position is a loser for three reasons. First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for; they claim to be waiting for the settlement “freeze” even as they quietly savor a rare public battle between Israel and the United States. Second, the administration’s objective — whatever its merits — is unobtainable. No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze, and no coalition could be assembled from the current parliament to impose one.


Finally, the extraction of a freeze from Netanyahu is, as a practical matter, unnecessary … Before the 2007 Annapolis peace conference organized by the Bush administration, Saudi Arabia and other Arab participants agreed to what one former senior official called “the Google Earth test”; if the settlements did not visibly expand, that was good enough …


Curiously, though, the administration — led by the State Department — keeps raising the stakes. Clinton went out of her way on June 17 to disavow any agreements between the second Bush administration and Israel over “natural growth” in some settlements. In a press briefing last Monday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly responded to a question by saying the administration opposed new construction in all areas “across the [green] line” in Jerusalem — a definition that would prohibit Israeli building in such areas as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City …



The best course nevertheless lies in striking a quick deal with the left-leaning Barak this week under cover of the tumult in Tehran. The administration could then return to doing what it intended to do all along: press Palestinians as well as Israelis, friendly Arab governments and not-so-friendly Iranian clients such as Syria to take tangible steps toward a regional settlement. Such movement would be the perfect complement to the cause of change in Iran; how foolish it would be to squander it over a handful of Israeli apartment houses (Jackson Diehl, ‘End the Spat With Israel,’ Washington Post, June 29, 2009).


ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It is notable that a senior Washington Post columnist has strongly pointed out some of the basic flaws of the Obama Administration’s default policy of pressuring Israel while ignoring basic realities, like the PA’s on-going involvement in terrorism, repeated non-acceptance of Israel as Jewish state and failure to end incitement to hatred and murder which ensures continued conflict and bloodshed.


“It has taken only a matter of months for it to become widely clear that the Obama Administration has inverted American priorities by befriending hostile tyrants while abandoning and pressuring trusted friends like Israel. In fact, one could even go further and say that the Obama Administration’s originally expressed intention to apply pressure on all sides to fulfill their commitments was simply lip-service. For example, while President Obama mentioned Arab incitement against Israel in his Cairo speech, he never made its ending a condition for progress as he has so far made Israel acceding to a total Jewish construction freeze a requirement, something which is neither feasible nor just, let alone something that would advance peace.


Already the PA leadership has shown that it will not budge an inch or fulfill any of its commitments, since it believes it can simply wait for America to hand it Israeli concessions. PA president Abbas made this point explicitly in a May 29 interview with Mr. Diehl, who wrote, ‘Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one [PA]official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession — such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees. Instead, he says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.” In the Obama administration, so far, it’s easy being Palestinian.’


“It is clear already that the Obama Administration’s strident public pressure upon America’s ally Israel and lack of pressure on the PA has not only justifiably led most Israelis to be deeply concerned, but is clearly counter-productive.”


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