Restarting the Middle East Peace Process

[New Republic] Robert Satloff - Under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the recipe for peacemaking began with a heavy dose of U.S.-Israel partnership. Because the peace process is, at its core, about asking Israelis to give up the tangible asset of land for the intangible and inherently revocable promise of peace, building Israel's confidence in the strategic alliance with Washington has long been considered elemental. Was the U.S. demand for a building freeze in the territories really necessary to re-start negotiations, given that Palestinians - from Yasser Arafat on down - have had no compunction negotiating with Israel for the last sixteen years without one? Wouldn't Washington's direct bargaining with Israel over a freeze relieve the Arab side from having to contribute anything to this process? Washington's fixation on stopping settlement activity did have a powerful echo in at least one Middle East country: Israel. America's freeze-mania managed to transform Israel's deep national ambivalence about the wisdom of expanding West Bank settlements into patriotic support for the right of Jews to live in their ancient capital. By giving off vibes that it wanted a freeze even more than the Arabs themselves, and that it wanted to halt building even in Israel's capital, the administration succeeded in making Netanyahu more popular than when he came to office in March. In New York last week, Obama finally changed course, announcing that restarting peace talks would no longer be contingent on reaching agreement with Israel on a settlement freeze. Obama was not the first president to come into office with a policy rooted more in ideological attachment than dispassionate analysis, but, on this topic at least, he shifted gears more quickly than most. The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2009-09-29 08:00:00

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