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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Will Obama start another fight over Jerusalem?

Jonathan Tobin eloquently expresses the fear that I have been expressing since the summer.
But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.
Read the whole thing. My guess is that how bad Obama post-midterms will be for Israel will depend whether he sees himself as having a chance of winning in 2012. But he's certainly not going to be good, and he almost definitely will be more like the Obama of 2009 through March 2010 than like the Obama of the last six months.

What could go wrong?


At 10:47 AM, Blogger Akiva said...

I strongly disagree. When faced with a massive loss of his leverage for a domestic political agenda, he's going to double-down on the things a president can do by fiat - and that includes foreign policy and especially Israel. Since he's not a slick operator to turn things around and co-opt his opponents agenda (per Bill Clinton), he'll either buy the liberal argument that "he didn't succeed enough" and that's why the people turned against him or realize his agenda isn't going to garner public support and therefore limits his reelection possibilities - meaning he's only got 2 years to change the world in his image.

In either case it means a run away presidency with Congress coming in months later to try to limit the damage by de-funding the president's moves - which will be somewhat effective in the domestic realm but much less so in the international realm.

In either case Israel is about to learn she stands alone with only HaKodesh Baruch Hu for support.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel should tell the President to kindly get lost and deal with his problems at home than lecture Israel about solving a problem that has no chance of being resolved in our lifetime. After the mid-terms, the world will look very different and with a Republican Congress looking over his shoulder, Obama will be in no shape to pick another fight with Israel - certainly not over Jewish housing in Jerusalem. Israel needs to stand its ground.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger kranky said...

Netanyahu outlined a simple recipe for the talks to continue, and for a freeze to be enacted. If the 'palis' care for peace, they can follow the recipe. If Obama really wants peace he can pressure the 'palis'.

Starting another fight over Jerusalem when its obvious how to work past the impasse is, kind of stupid. Not something that we might expect from "the smartest president evuh." So if he is dumb enough to start this fight, and I do think as of 3-November, he will, he should be ignored.

Wait for the response until the new Congress convenes. Current data is calling this a a democratic mass extinction event. Then go to congress, explain the situation, get their backing, and have them apply pressure to the president to back off.

And offer a carrot and stick, publicly, to Obama and the 'palis'. Completely reasonable carrort and stick. Recognize what is ours, and we will talk. Don't recognize what is ours, and talking ends.

Finally, put a sunset on all negotiations. Codify in Israeli law that, no time after January 1st, 2014, will Israel discuss any land swaps, giveaways, or peace with 'palis'. That Israel will operate assuming that the situation is intractable given the current political leadership in the 'palis' community, and will begin immediately pressing the UN to start active resettlement of the 'palis' so as to do what it should have done more than 60 years ago. Point out that they have done a generational disservice to the 'refugees', one that needs be fixed in a hurry. Give them a year to get it done.

But don't bow to Obama, or his foreign policy diktats. He is a weak one-termer, who is regarded as being worse than the worst president, Jimmah Carter.


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