End the Spat With Israel

[Washington Post] Jackson Diehl - The upheaval in Iran offers the Obama administration a chance to creep away from the corner into which it has painted itself in the Arab-Israeli peace process. President Obama began with a broad strategy of simultaneously pressing Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to take concrete steps toward peace. But that broad front narrowed to a single point: a standoff with the Israeli government over whether "natural growth" would be allowed in Jewish settlements outside Israel's 1967 borders. But, starting with a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May, the administration made the mistake of insisting that an Israeli settlement "freeze" must mean a total stop to all construction in the West Bank and even East Jerusalem. This absolutist position is a loser for three reasons. First, it has allowed Palestinian and Arab leaders to withhold the steps they were asked for; they claim to be waiting for the settlement "freeze" even as they quietly savor a rare public battle between Israel and the U.S. Second, the administration's objective is unobtainable. No Israeli government has ever agreed to an unconditional freeze, and no coalition could be assembled from the current parliament to impose one. Finally, the extraction of a freeze is unnecessary. Both the PA and Arab governments have gone along with previous U.S.-Israeli deals by which construction was to be limited to inside the periphery of settlements near Israel - since everyone knows those areas will be annexed to Israel in a final settlement. Before the 2007 Annapolis conference, Saudi Arabia and other Arab participants agreed to what one former senior official called "the Google Earth test"; if the settlements did not visibly expand, that was good enough.

2009-06-29 06:00:00

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