President Obama’s health care policy is in trouble; his Middle East “peace” policy is in shambles. The Washington Post confirms what’s been obvious for months — Obama’s insistence on a total settlement freeze has undermined his popularity among Israelis, caused the nation to rally around Prime Minister Netanyahu, and removed the U.S. (at least for now) as a serious force in the so-called peace process.
The magnitude of these “accomplishments” is difficult to overstate. As the Post observes, Israeli leaders have always been reluctant to break publicly with a U.S. president for the very good reason that Israelis pretty much demand that their leaders keep relations with the U.S. on a strong footing. Netanyahu himself was “punished” by Israeli voters when he failed to maintain good relations with President Clinton, the Post recalls.
But the unreasonableness of Obama’s demand for a freeze on even “natural growth” construction in core settlements, coupled with his opposition to the building of fewer a relatively small number of apartment units in East Jerusalem, has changed the dynamic drastically. As we have noted, a July poll showed that 60 percent of Israelis don’t trust Obama. Meanwhile, according to the Post, Netanyahu’s decision to oppose Obama on settlements commands “overwhelming” support.
As a result, the Post reports, organizations that favor a more aggressive settlement policy ( which I don’t) have become more vocal, and politicians have more openly embraced their views. For example, four members of Netanyahu’s cabinet visited unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank earlier this week. If, as the left insists, the existence of such outposts is “toxic,” the left can thank Obama for adding to the toxicity level.
But the most damning bit of information, in Obama’s own terms, is the fact that until late last year, the Palestinians were negotiating with Israel despite ongoing construction in the West Bank. Dan Meridor, Israel’s intelligence minister, argues that the White House, by publicly demanding a total settlement freeze, caused the Palestinians to walk away from peace talks. It may be that the causation runs the other way, i.e., that the Palestinians were the prime movers, convincing Obama to place demands on Israel that President Bush had not, and then walking away in order to see whether Israel would knuckle under.
In either scenario, Obama has played this very badly. If most Israelis don’t trust him, he has very little chance of advancing the “peace process.”
Obama has done what I thought it was nearly impossible to do — he has made the United States a bit player in Israel.
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