We might have put this behind us.
That’s what some members of the Obama administration should have been thinking this week as the brouhaha over Israel’s authorization of 1600 new housing units in Jerusalem has been allowed to explode into a diplomatic crisis. Vice President, Joe Biden, touring the region had stinging words of rebuke for his hosts despite repeated apologies from Israeli government leaders. He refused to be mollified, even as he mouthed platitudes about his understanding of the unfortunate timing of the announcement.
In almost every other administration, such an event would have been pasted over with a mere rap across the knuckles and an exchange of polite assurances that such a diplomatic gaffe would not recur. But on Friday the Obama administration, perhaps believing that getting tough with Israel only serves to enhance its bona fides with the Arab world, decided to escalate the matter. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, claimed that the action “undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interest.”White House political chief David Axelrod piled on yesterday, lambasting Israel for what he described as “an affront.”
Why? Almost anyone who lives in Jerusalem knows that the area in dispute, Ramat Shlomo, is a Jewish neighborhood and has been so for thirty years. It is surrounded by other Jewish neighborhoods and no Israeli in their right mind would consider surrendering it in any final peace deal with the Palestinians. Giving up Ramat Shlomo would be the equivalent of giving up the world famous Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the tony Jerusalem suburb of French Hill and even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. All three are just as integrated into the Jewish identity of Jerusalem as Ramat Shlomo. Only by accepting the Palestinian narrative – that all of Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians, could anyone possibly envision the suburb as future Palestinian territory.
All of which brings us to the question of what, exactly, the Obama administration is trying to achieve with this demonstration of diplomatic muscle. Surely it now understands how the Palestinians manipulate the news and use their own refusal to negotiate, as a bargaining chip in itself. Certainly it must appreciate, that such Palestinian grandstanding is a reflection not of their political strength but of their weakness – as Mahmoud Abbas and his lieutenants use such diplomatic opportunities to drive a wedge between Israel and its U.S. ally.
Well, maybe not. Listen to what Hilary Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley, had to say on Friday:
“ Mrs. Clinton spoke this morning with Prime Minister Netanyahu …to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests. The Secretary made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and the peace process.”
I suppose, then, that Israel had not demonstrated sufficient commitment to the “relationship and the peace process” by withdrawing its settlements and troops from Gaza and certain areas of the West Bank – and receiving nothing but rocket fire in return; or by imposing a ten month freeze on construction in the West Bank or, for that matter, by giving up, over the past 17 years, more than one thousand lives of its citizens to Palestinian terror.
Categorizing all such painful sacrifices as ‘past history’ and irrelevant to future negotiations, this U.S administration now sees only Israeli infractions and reticence and nothing of the same kind among the Palestinians. Where is Hilary’s condemnation of the Palestinian education system which continues to brazenly demonize Israelis and Jews and encourage suicide missions for children? Where is Hilary’s alarm about the ubiquity of anti-American sentiment in the Palestinian controlled territories, fanned by Palestinian clerics and political leaders? Where is the sense of outrage that with the tremendous aid the Palestinians receive from the European Union and the United States, there is still, after 17 years, no effective accounting for much of it.
In the same week in which Obama’s State Department offered an apology to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi for Crowley’s dismissal of Gadhafi’s “Jihad speech” against Switzerland and the opening of an “era of good relations” with Syria, accented by the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador, it seems oddly ironic that its best friend in the region is the one country whose conduct is targeted as inimical to U.S. interests.
With such a venomous attitude towards friends and an open arms attitude towards enemies, it becomes clearer by the day what should have been obvious from the very beginning: the Obama administration has no Middle East policy other than to reprimand or pressure Israel. That might seem appropriate seeing that Israel has the only government in the Middle East with apparently anything to either gain or lose by coddling U.S. support.