A pitch-man’s latest pitch

If Rep. Robert Wexler were smart, he’d feel like an idiot. Wexler, a liberal Democratic congressman from South Florida, was the first high-profile Jewish politician outside of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. Thereafter, he vouched non-stop for Obama’s bona fides as a friend of Israel.

Within a few months of taking office, however, Obama was demanding unconditionally that Israel stop all new construction in its settlements even though the U.S., during the Bush administration, had informally assured Israel that natural growth construction was not objectionable. Israelis were thus told by Obama not to build homes for their children in their communities based on the hope that a Palestinian govenment capable of negotiating with Israel might one day emerge from the present chaos, and that this govenment might deign to recognize Israel’s right to exist and really mean it.

This week, Wexler was in Israel for the third time this year attempting to gloss over Obama’s one-sided hostility towards Israel — and in particular towards the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu — while trying to persuade Israel to bend to the will of his patron. Recognizing that there is no Palestinian “peace partner,” Wexler argued that Israel stood to gain the normalization of relations with “22 Arab states” if only it would freeze all settlement construction. Recognizing that this result is implausible, a desperate-sounding Wexler said:

I want to see, if Israel makes substantial movement toward a credible peace process, whether [the Arab states] are willing to do it. And if they are not, better that we should find out five or six months into the process, before Israel is actually asked to compromise any significant position.

In other words, the settlement freeze is only the first, and least significant, in a series of demands Obama intends to make on Israel.

Wexler then tried to signal that the freeze would not be absolute:

I don’t see an equation where it is in Israel’s interest to say no, so I believe Israel will say yes, under a certain set of qualifications that Israel will agree to. This is one hundred percent in Israel’s national security interest. Any process of discussion requires compromise, particularly amongst friends and allies if they are coming from different points.

Wexler would not identify the “qualifications” to the settlement freeze the Obama administration might agree to. In any event, Secretary of State Clinton has made it clear that President Obama is demanding a total freeze, without exception or qualification. A month ago, she stated “[President Obama] wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.” To my knowledge, neither the president nor anyone in his administration has backed away from that position.

Wexler then criticized the Israeli press for playing up Obama’s demands on the Israelis without stressing his demand that Arab states normalize relations with Israel. But Wexler acknowledged that Obama expects Israel to meet his demands not only in advance of any actual steps towards normalization by any Arab state, but also in advance of any indication that any Arab state will take such steps if Israel adopts the total freeze. Wexler dismissed Israel’s desire to see something positive from its adversaries before it impairs the rights of its own citizens as “childish.”

Wexler may or may not feel like an idiot. But Israelis should feel like idiots if they take him seriously.

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