Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Will Obama stand his ground?

Putting a smiley face on US-Israel relations, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren notes that Israel's policy on Jerusalem remains unchanged but that relations between the two states are "great". Oren is an historian who specialized in PR work for the IDF when he periodically reported for voluntary reserve duty--as during the 2008-9 Gaza campaign. In March, he was quoted to remark that US-Israeli relations were at their lowest point in 35 years. (The comment came in a conference call with Israeli diplomats.) He subsequently denied making the crisis comment, but not very convincingly, as a variety of accounts underline.

So, if Oren's latest assessment is to be believed, there has been a real turnabout in recent weeks. This would be a significant demonstration of power by the pro-Israeli lobby forces. Since the Biden slap there has been a concerted effort by leading lobby groups, not least AIPAC, to tamp down the crisis and get Congress in step, which is a well-practiced drill. Read here to see if your favorite representative jumped aboard the Israel right-or-wrong train.

Despite the smiles, including from the Obama White House, the underlying contradictions in US-Israeli perspectives on peacemaking remain however. The debate within the administration continues. It is well understood that the US pays a heavy price for Israeli intransigence, especially in the context US relations with the Muslim world. Obama has found a lot of support for stance on settlement from the foreign policy establishment, including former Secretary of State James Baker, who upended Yitzhak Shamir precisely over the issue of illegal settlements nearly two decades ago. Baker earlier faulted Obama for backing down on his demand that Israel freeze settlement construction:
I don’t fault President Obama for making settlements an issue, but I do fault him for caving in. You can’t take a position that is consistent with U.S. policy going back many years, and the minute you get push-back you soften your position. When you are dealing with foreign leaders, they can smell that kind of weakness a thousand miles away. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have long endorsed the U.S. policy that settlements are an obstacle to peace. If “land for peace” is the path to a resolution, then settlements clearly create facts on the ground that foreclose the possibility of negotiations.
There is reason to believe that the President understands that he made a serious error by backing off his previous demand for settlement freeze. He now seems to have revived his determination to move toward a solution of the conflict. If so, expect that a lot of the debate will go by out of public sight, but as early as the fall we might see the framework for a settlement from the White House.

The Boston Study Group's report is a good guide to what a solution is likely to comprise.

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