Lots of blog talk about Israel, the settlements, Obama, Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Laura Rozen in Foreign Policy:
Last night, shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists that the Obama administration “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a confidante. Referring to Clinton’s call for a settlement freeze, Netanyahu groused, “What the hell do they want from me?” according to his associate, who added, “I gathered that he heard some bad vibes in his meetings with [U.S.] congressional delegations this week.”
In the 10 days since Netanyahu and President Barack Obama held a meeting at the White House, the Obama administration has made clear in public and private meetings with Israeli officials that it intends to hold a firm line on Obama’s call to stop Israeli settlements. According to many observers in Washington and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, looking for loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington, has been flummoxed by an unusually united line that has come not just from Obama White House and the secretary of state, but also from pro-Israel congressmen and women who have come through Israel for meetings with him over Memorial Day recess. To Netanyahu’s dismay, Obama doesn’t appear to have a hidden policy. It is what he said it was.
“This is a sea change for Netanyahu,” a former senior Clinton administration official who worked on Middle East issues said. The official said that the basis of the Obama White House’s resolve is the conviction that it is in the United States’ as well as Israel’s interest to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We have significant, existential threats that Israel faces from Iran and that the U.S. faces from this region. It is in our mutual interest to end this conflict, and to begin to build new regional alliances.”
Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:
Gone at last is the administration’s reluctance to boss other nations through “pre-conditions.” When it comes to Israel, Obama is willing to dictate whether parents can build a nearby house for their grown children.
Why is Obama more willing to talk this way to our friends than to our enemies? There are two logical explanations. First, our enemies will throw these kinds of statements back in Obama’s face, whereas our friends will listen politely, at a minimum. Second, for Obama Israel is an adversary, whereas Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. are mere annoyances.
I favor both explanations.
A third factor is also at work here, I think (whether or to what extent it is independent of the second can be debated). The U.S. wants to topple the Israeli government. Thus, it sees value in picking a fight with it.
Michael Crowley at TNR
Jonathan Tobin in Commentary
Gershom Gorenberg on what’s happened since the Barack/Bibi meeting:
So Bibi comes back to Israel, declares in that proud strong Bibi voice that he told Obama that Jerusalem will never be divided (hint to outside observers: that’s the voice Bibi uses after an uncomfortable experience of his own weakness). And then, just to show that he does take U.S. opinion into account, he sends a bulldozer to a Potemkin outpost. (Barak, not wanting to look like a wimp himself, says, “The evacuation is not related to U.S. pressure but to the obligations of Israeli society to itself.”)
I dearly hope that no one, especially in Washington, is fooled by this farce. As Ma’ariv noted in an earlier online report, Ma’oz Esther is one of the outposts set up by hilltop youth under the direction of veteran settlement extremists Moshe Levinger and Daniella Weiss. Most of these spots aren’t populated most of the time. That Ma’ariv report was from March, the last time that Ma’oz Esther was bulldozed. Yesterday, the shacks were knocked over in the morning and put back up by the afternoon. No one was arrested. No troops stayed at the spot to make sure that it stayed demolished. Check tomorrow night, and there may not be anyone living there.
And, for a bonus, we have an old Bloggingheads between Gorenberg and David Frum about the settlements.
UPDATE #2: Marty Peretz:
But the idea of stopping all construction in all settlements means that once again the Israelis will be ceding something in advance and for nothing in return. This is a destructive negotiating tactic and will encourage the same kind of intransigence -you give me, I take- that has marked the Palestinians in all of the talks. After all, the West Bank is one of the prime subjects of the parleying. Telling the Israelis that they can’t build another house in this settlement and in that one, too (in all of the settlements, in fact) means that no one can marry and no one can have children and no one can add a room to the house. This is not diplomacy; it is the smothering of ordinary life. Since there is an ongoing demographic race in Jerusalem, which is also one of the subjects at any future conference, why doesn’t the administration also demand from the Jews and the Arabs that they cease pro-creating?
UPDATE #3 Joe Klein:
There’s a fair amount of twitching going on in the Middle East this week in advance of Barack Obama’s address to the Islamic world in Cairo on Thursday. Much of it has to do with the expectation that Obama will put some pressure on the Israelis to stop the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian territories. The Netanyahu government is resisting such a step, arguing a technical point: that some of the settlements, especially those around Jerusalem, will remain in Israeli hands after any peace deal, and should be allowed some “natural” expansion. Sorry, but that is an evasion and a bad faith evasion at that. Settlements need to be frozen, no exceptions, right now. Indeed, the need for natural expansion in some of these towns would, theoretically, put pressure on Israel to move with more alacrity toward a peace deal so that people who want to build on extra rooms or extra floors would be able to do so.
UPDATE #4: Jeffrey Goldberg
UPDATE #5: Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy
UPDATE #6: Ben Smith in Politico
Michael Goldfarb in TWS
UPDATE #7: David Hazony in Commentary
UPDATE #8: Glenn Greenwald
UPDATE #10: Charles Krauthammer
Joe Klein on Krauthammer
Jennifer Rubin on Krauthammer