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March 16, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Obama Pushing U.S.-Israel Alliance to the Brink? - Dan Raviv (CBS News)
    In the cause of pushing for progress toward Israeli-Arab peace it looks to many as though Obama is brandishing a big box of matches and a large jerrycan of gasoline.
    Instead of calming suddenly choppy seas between Washington and Jerusalem, he is demanding that Israel instantly make some concessions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may consider politically impossible.

A New Low - Noah Pollak (Commentary)
    It appears to be official policy in the current administration to approach the peace process as an opportunity to reorient the U.S.' position between Jews and Arabs in the region.
    Palestinian incitement, the PA's public celebration of terrorism, the rioting in Jerusalem, the ongoing Palestinian refusal to participate in negotiations - none of these have warranted any American comment whatsoever.
    In fact, I cannot recall a single time when an Obama administration official has criticized the PA for anything. Yet the administration publicly upbraids Israel on an almost weekly basis.
    The Obama administration's reaction to the Biden visit has been too eagerly petulant to simply be a response to an insult - especially when it is clear that Netanyahu didn't know the housing announcement was coming, and when the U.S. had already accepted the terms of the settlement freeze, which allows for precisely such construction in Jerusalem.

Are U.S.-Israeli Relations Headed for a Train Wreck? - Joel C. Rosenberg (National Review)
    The Israeli government has every right to build homes for its own citizens in its own capital. The Obama administration is dramatically overreacting to this incident, to its discredit.
    It is critical that all Americans who love Israel and believe the Israelis are our best friends and allies in a highly volatile region show their strong support for the Jewish state at this critical moment.
    Given rising and serious threats against Israel from Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbullah, is this really the time for the White House and State Department to be throwing a temper tantrum over Israel's right to build houses in its capital?

What's All the Fuss About? - Barry Rubin (Jerusalem Post)
    The announcement that 1,600 apartments would be built in east Jerusalem was neither a provocation, the establishment of a "new settlement," nor proof that Israel doesn't want peace.
    The area in question is a neighborhood about five blocks from the pre-1967 border. The haredim who live there have the highest birth rate in the country and desperately need new apartments.
    At most, this announcement shows that Israel doesn't intend to give up all of east Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement. That's not exactly news.
    Why aren't Western countries and media saying that the PA's refusal to negotiate for 15 months shows that it doesn't want peace?
    As long as much of the West keeps sending the wrong signals - it's all Israel's fault, no real pressure will be put on the PA - their policy will delay any progress toward peace.

Israel Sends Message on Jerusalem - Editorial (Intermountain Jewish News)
    What were they thinking? It's perfectly clear. Israel was thinking that Jerusalem is not up for negotiation. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. There is no building freeze in Jerusalem. Get used to it.
    As Benny Begin put it, had the announcement been made two weeks in advance of Biden's visit, Israel would have been accused of undermining it. Had the announcement been made two weeks after Biden's visit, Israel would have been accused of deceiving him.
    The fact is, there is never a good time to announce something that either the Palestinians or the U.S. will not like. Apparently, they will never like Israel's assertion of sovereignty over Jerusalem.
    No Israeli government, on either the right or the left, is willing to deny 3,000 years of Jewish history, hundreds of mentions of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible, as over against zero mentions in the Koran. That's what they were thinking.

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  • Netanyahu: Israel Will Keep Building in Jerusalem
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting Brazilian President Lula da Silva at the Knesset on Monday: "Welcome to united Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the eternal city and the city of the Bible."
        "No government of Israel for the last 40 years has agreed to place restrictions on building in Jerusalem....During that time, all these governments have built in the suburbs of Jerusalem - in Gilo, in Ramot, in Neve Yaakov, in Ramat Eshkol, in French Hill, in Pisgat Zeev, in Ramat Shlomo and elsewhere. The establishment of these Jewish suburbs did not harm the Arabs of east Jerusalem in any shape or form and did not come at their expense....Regardless of whatever political differences there may be in this house regarding the final-status agreement, the ultimate borders of Israel, everyone agrees that all of these neighborhoods will remain part of Israel in any final peace settlement."
        "We will continue to keep Jerusalem an open city accessible to all religions - a city where Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, live together and have freedom of religion and access to religious sites."   (Prime Minister's Office)
  • U.S. Pushing Netanyahu to Accept Demands - Glenn Kessler
    The Obama administration is pressing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to reverse last week's approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the "core issues" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks, U.S. officials said. "If he is unwilling to make that kind of commitment, it raises the questions of how committed he is to negotiations - and it raises the question of how committed he is to the relationship between Israel and the United States," a senior U.S. official said. The official said the Obama administration views the success of the Middle East peace talks as central to the national security interests of the U.S. and that any failure by Netanyahu to fully embrace the talks would be viewed negatively.
        Israeli officials say it is unclear if Netanyahu had the legal authority to reverse the recent decision. The housing announcement was made by a regional planning committee. "It is almost as if President Obama were held accountable for a housing project approved by Fairfax County," said George Birnbaum, former chief of staff for the prime minister. (Washington Post)
  • U.S. Israel Criticism Ignites Firestorm in Congress - Matthew Lee
    A bipartisan parade of influential lawmakers has taken aim at the administration's decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in Jerusalem. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., both urged the administration to ease the tone of the dispute. "It's time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn't serve anybody's interests but our enemies," Lieberman said. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said, "It's hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace."   (AP-Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Clashes Erupt in Jerusalem after Hamas Declares "Day of Rage" - Liel Kyzer and Tomer Zarchin
    Masked Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in multiple east Jerusalem neighborhoods on Tuesday, hurling rocks at security forces and burning tires. Hamas called for a "day of rage" following the rededication of the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Destroyed Jerusalem Synagogue Rededicated - Abe Selig and Hilary Leila Krieger
    The renowned Hurva synagogue inside the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City has been rebuilt and is again an operational house of prayer after a 62-year hiatus. The synagogue, once the largest in Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion during the War of Independence in 1948.
        Speaking inside the Hurva before the ceremony, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger addressed Muslim concerns: "All we are doing is resurrecting the Hurva, which was destroyed more than 60 years ago. We have no intention of rebuilding the Temple....All the rumors that suggest we will later march on the Temple Mount are just that - rumors; a media spin by anti-Semites who wish us harm."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also The Hurva's Symbolism - Editorial
    Twice destroyed and twice rebuilt, the Hurva is a symbol of the Jewish people's tenacious insistence on returning to its rightful land against all odds. This refusal to be deterred by setbacks is the secret of the miracle that is the Jewish state. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Finland: EU Will Impose Iran Sanctions If UN Stalls on Issue
    There is "consensus enough" between European Union members to approve more EU sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program if the UN Security Council stalls on the issue, Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said Saturday. (DPA-Ha'aretz)
        See also France FM: UN Sanctions on Iran Not Likely Before June (Reuters-Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The U.S. Quarrel with Israel - Editorial
    President Obama's Middle East diplomacy failed in his first year in part because he chose to engage in an unnecessary and unwinnable public confrontation with Israel over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. So it has been startling - and a little puzzling - to see Mr. Obama deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the Jewish state. The dispute's dramatic escalation seems to have come at the direct impetus of Mr. Obama.
        American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces. On the question of Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu is likely to dig in his heels - as would any other Israeli government.
        A larger question concerns Mr. Obama's quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government. Tough tactics don't always work: Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama's poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders. If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends. (Washington Post)
  • Biden's Israel Visit and Its Aftermath: The Importance of Maintaining Strategic Direction in U.S. Middle East Policy - Robert Satloff
    In less than 48 hours, U.S.-Israel relations went from "unbreakable," according to Vice President Joe Biden, to "perilous," as ascribed to an "unnamed senior U.S. official." The Obama administration needs to tread carefully and act wisely, avoiding demands that resurrect the overreach of the first six months when Washington demanded a halt to Israeli settlements and inadvertently created its own impasse in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy.
        It would be shortsighted for the administration to use this episode as an opportunity to reward the Palestinians - who, after all, have been unenthusiastic about American requests for negotiations for months - or to accept Palestinian arguments that "proximity talks," rather than direct negotiations, are an appropriate forum for substantive give-and-take.
        And it would be an analytical blunder for the administration to believe that this incident is an opportunity that could precipitate Netanyahu's political demise: after all, this government is an accurate reflection of what Israeli politics these days is all about. The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Israel Doesn't Need to Grovel for U.S. Forgiveness - Moshe Arens
    According to critics, the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve plans for putting up additional houses in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, just as Biden was arriving in the country, was ruining relations between the U.S. and Israel and causing irreparable damage to strategic cooperation between the two countries. If some years from now historians try to determine why the U.S. did not take any effective action to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, they will find that the responsibility lay on the shoulders of a minor Israeli civil servant who set the agenda of a local planning committee.
        It was well known in Washington that the Netanyahu government had not frozen building activity in Jerusalem, and that therefore not only construction there was continuing but also the routine planning activities that precede construction. On the subject of Jerusalem, the government of Israel and the administration in Washington simply disagree.
        Throughout the U.S.-Israeli relationship there have been disagreements on certain issues, but generally, the disagreements have not been taken public. President Obama has taken a new approach, which he signaled at his speech last June in Cairo, where he publicly called on Israel to stop settlement activity. Yet this approach is actually making it more difficult, if not impossible, for Abbas to come to the negotiating table. Whereas in the past he negotiated with Israel while settlement activity continued, Obama's Cairo speech left Abbas no choice but to demand the cessation of settlement activity as a condition for entering negotiations. After all, he cannot be less Palestinian than Obama. (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinians' Destructive Veneration of Terrorists - Richard Cohen
    What can you say about a 19-year-old woman who participates in a terrorist attack in which 38 people, 13 of them children, are killed in cold blood? The answer, if the woman is Palestinian and the dead are Israelis, is heroine or martyr - and if she is Dalal Mughrabi, you name a school and a camp after her, and last week, a square in the West Bank town of El Bireh.
        If the term "confidence-building measure" is employed, what confidence can Israelis have in a people and their leaders who honor the 1978 murder of innocents, particularly children? To my knowledge, there is no square in Israel named for the mass murderers of civilians. Palestinian society, in contrast, honors all sorts of terrorists. The veneration of terrorists says something unsettling about Palestinian society. The adulation of Dalal Mughrabi and other terrorists is bound to give your average Israeli parent a certain pause: Is this the state we want next to us?
        The determination in the West not to hold Palestinians morally accountable for terrorism - as well as their commonplace anti-Semitism - is a repugnant form of neocolonial mentality in which, once again, the Palestinians are being patronized. I dare say the Brits would have reacted differently if a square in Belfast had been named for some IRA terrorist. (Washington Post)
  • Observations:

    U.S. Anger Over East Jerusalem Row Is Excessive - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)

    • America's response to the government's approval of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo in northeast Jerusalem is excessive. While it extends a hand to Iran, which continues in its effort to acquire a nuclear bomb; and reaches out to Syria as it arms Hizbullah with advanced weapons, it seems the Obama administration has made a conscious decision to aggravate a diplomatic crisis with the Netanyahu government.
    • The majority of Israelis wholly oppose halting construction in east Jerusalem. They may be angry over the timing of the announcement - but most want building to continue. So I am not at all sure that America's opposition to a democratic decision by Israel's citizens will damage Netanyahu's standing at home.
    • As far as anyone can tell, Netanyahu was unaware of the Regional Planning Council's decision, as was Eli Yishai, the interior minister. Local councils don't usually apprise ministers - let alone the prime minister - of their decisions. President Obama would hardly be expected to approve personally plans for a new neighborhood in Washington, D.C. With this in mind, Washington conspiracy theorists' claims of an Israeli ruse are misplaced.
    • It is fair to assume that the Obama administration made a calculated decision to attack Netanyahu, based partly on the presumption of support from the Israeli public. However, whatever Israeli journalists might say to undermine the position of their prime minister does not necessarily give foreign officials the right to say the same. It smacks of intervention.
    • Attempts to imply that Israeli policy is endangering the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and even Iraq, verge on an insult to the intelligence. Afghans don't care about Ramat Shlomo, or about the Palestinians and Netanyahu. As far as extremist Islamists are concerned, the seven-year presence of American forces on Iraqi soil is a good enough excuse to attack Americans. Efforts by Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, to imply otherwise in television interviews are dishonest.
    • Palestinians see the Obama administration's decision to attack Israel as an invitation to adopt a more confrontational line. The PA has smelled blood. So why not start a riot and blame the Israelis, especially when the U.S. government is doing the same.

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