We still don’t know for sure what demands President Obama presented to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last week in Washington, but based on reports that have “trickled in,” the Jerusalem Post offers a plausible compilation. According to the JPost, the demands include:
stopping Jewish construction in east Jerusalem for four months, not proceeding with plans to build in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, stopping the demolition of Arab homes in east Jerusalem and opening a Palestinian commercial office there. The US president has also reportedly demanded that Israel agree to talk about the core issues of the conflict – borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees – during proximity talks, as well as to release Palestinian security prisoners so as to bolster PA President Mahmoud Abbas, to turn over parts of the West Bank in Areas B and C, currently under joint Israel-Palestinian or complete Israel security control, to the PA, and to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Thus, it appears that the U.S. president not only wants to dictate to Israel the conditions under which it can build apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in its capital city, but also the terms under which it can protect its security. For example, Obama demands that Israel release terrorists in order to bolster the PA President. But why should Israel bolster a man whose popularity, in Obama’s view, depends on taking credit for freeing anti-Israeli terrorists? And why should Israel defer to any American on such matters as which parts of the West Bank can safely be turned over to the enemy and whether it is time to lift a blockade on a territory that has been a constant source of attacks on Israel?
It is the fundamental right of every sovereign country to decide for itself how to protect the security of its citizens. Netanyahu should have rejected Obama’s attempt to usurp that right on the spot. And he should realize that peace negotiations are a bad idea as long as they are overseen by an American president who believes he can dictate to Israel.
Having delivered his noxious set of demands, Obama is now attempting, at least in public, to dial down the heat. Thus, he has characterized the current dispute as a “disagreement among friends about how to move forward.” This is brazenly disingenuous even by Obama’s standards. Friends don’t disgaree with friends by presenting them with demands nor, if they did, would they present the demands while attempting to embarrass and humiliate the “friend.”
Obama also declared that “It’s not just on the Israeli side, I’ve been very clear that the Palestinians have to take steps.” But has Obama presented concrete demands to the PA that it make tangible concessions to Israel? If so, I have not heard about them.
Obama concluded that “my commitment, my personal commitment, to Israel’s security is unwavering,” Let’s judge this claim by Obama’s standards. He has demanded that Netanyahu not just express his commitment to the “peace process,” but also that he take concrete steps to prove his good faith. Israel should similarly demand that Obama demonstrate his alleged commitment to Israel’s security with concrete steps — steps relating to Iran, for example.
But these equitable considerations are irrelevant right now. All that matters for the moment is whether Israel will capitulate to Obama. The Jerusalem Post reports that Washington and Jerusalem may be close to an accommodation. The accommodation might consist of Israel saving face by agreeing privately, rather than in public, to a housing freeze in Jerusalem. The White House would then pressure the Palestinians and the Arab league to return to negotiations and to take “confidence-building measures” toward Israel.
As I have said, this sort of approach may tempt Netanyahu on the theory that the Palestinians and the Arab League will fail to step up, and Obama will take away the lesson that it is Israel’s adversaries who are unreasonable. Unfortunately, Obama’s takeaway is more likely to be that he can bully Netanyahu at will.