Oh, Jerusalem

President Obama is taking a bit of a beating these days for allegedly taking a hard line on Israel. See, for example, this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which takes Obama to task for demanding “that Israel freeze construction in East Jerusalem.”

Never mind that, according to all I’ve read, Obama himself has done no such thing.  Rather, according to the NY Times, a State Department official “raised concerns” over the East Jerusalem project with Israel’s new ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren.

The American officials suggested that going ahead with the development now would cause problems in negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The hawks — and even some of Obama’s supporters in the Jewish community — have reacted to this by intimating that Obama has crossed another red line. It’s as if the president has personally challenged Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, and taken a pot-shot at the Jewish world.

“If Jews were prohibited from buying property in New York, London, Paris or Rome, there would be an international outcry,” writes Mackubin Thomas Owens in the Journal.  “Why, [Israeli Prime Minister Bibi] Netanyahu wondered, should the standard be different for Jerusalem?”

Last I checked — unlike East Jerusalem — New York, London, Paris, and Rome were not home to 300,000 Palestinians, and were not candidates to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, but I digress.

Put me in Jeffrey Goldberg’s camp. In one of his most recent blogs, “In Defense of J Street,” The Atlantic reporter, whose dispatches from the Middle East are very even-handed, puts a “kosher stamp of approval on Obama’s approach to Israel.”

I’m not naïve about Arab intentions – or should I say, I’m no longer naïve about Arab intentions. I don’t automatically believe that the creation of a Palestinian state will lead to an end of claims, or an end to the conflict. But I know that Israel’s continued entanglement with the Palestinians, an entanglement deepened and exacerbated by its addiction to settlements, will eventually lead to the demise of the Jewish state. So I’m glad that “Obama’s Jews” support his demand for Israeli self-reflection (are we so wonderful that we couldn’t use a little self-examination now and again?), and I’m surprised that people are surprised by Obama’s modest demand. He said in his campaign that he would hold up a mirror to Israel, and he is. He’s also holding up a mirror to the Arab side, and that’s all for the good as well. Time is running out – if Israel doesn’t achieve permanent, internationally-recognized borders and diplomatic relations with the bulk of Muslim-majority countries soon, the campaign to delegitimize the very idea of Israel will become even more ferocious than it’s been.

To his point about the Arab side, as the Forward is reporting: “Freezing the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank was once seen as a unilateral Israeli obligation. But the Obama administration is now treating this as part of a package that will require concessions from Arab states, as well.”

“The Americans now understand that if they get anything from us on the settlement issue, it will only be in the broader context of some kind of Arab return,” said an Israeli diplomat, one of many similar comments from Israeli officials recently.  …

America’s request for signs of normalization with Israel is focusing now on symbolic steps. According to Arab and American diplomatic sources, Washington is now asking for the reopening of commercial interest offices of Oman, Qatar and Morocco in Israel and for permission for Israeli commercial airliners to fly over Gulf states, shortening by several hours flight routes from Israel to East Asia.

I’d like to also note that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today warned Iran that its pursuit of nuclear weapons is “futile,” adding: “we’re not going to let that happen.” This, just days after she raised the possibility of an American-created “defense umbrella” over the Middle East “to counter Iran’s efforts to build its power in the region by trying to develop weapons capacity.”

I admit, these facts are particularly inconvenient for the “Obama takes a hard line on Israel” crowd. Do not expect the Wall Street Journal to opine about them any time soon.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply