Washington Why did President Barack Obama choose to turn a gaffe into a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations?
And a gaffe it was: the announcement by a bureaucrat in the Interior Ministry of a housing expansion in a Jewish neighborhood in north Jerusalem. The timing could not have been worse: Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, Jerusalem is a touchy subject, and you don’t bring up touchy subjects that might embarrass an honored guest.
But it was no more than a gaffe. It was certainly not a policy change, let alone a betrayal. The neighborhood is in Jerusalem, and the 2009 Netanyahu-Obama agreement was for a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements excluding Jerusalem.
Nor was the offense intentional. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not know about this move — step four in a seven-step approval process for construction that, at best, will not even start for two to three years.
Nonetheless the prime minister is responsible. He apologized to Biden for the embarrassment. When Biden left Israel on March 11, the apology appeared accepted and the issue resolved.
The next day, however, the administration went nuclear. After discussing with the president specific language she would use, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu to deliver a hostile and highly aggressive 45-minute message that the Biden incident had created an unprecedented crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.
Clinton’s spokesman then publicly announced that Israel was now required to show in word and in deed its seriousness about peace.
Israel? Israelis have been looking for peace — literally dying for peace — since 1947, when they accepted the U.N. partition of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. (The Arabs refused and declared war. They lost.)
Israel made peace offers in 1967, 1978 and in the 1993 Oslo peace accords that Yasser Arafat tore up seven years later to launch a terror war that killed a thousand Israelis. Why, Clinton’s own husband testifies to the remarkably courageous and visionary peace offer made in his presence by Ehud Barak (now Netanyahu’s defense minister) at the 2000 Camp David talks. Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered equally generous terms to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Refused again.
In these long and bloody 63 years, the Palestinians have not once accepted an Israeli offer of permanent peace, or ever countered with anything short of terms that would destroy Israel. They insist instead on a “peace process” — now in its 17th post-Oslo year and still offering no credible Palestinian pledge of ultimate coexistence with a Jewish state — the point of which is to extract pre-emptive Israeli concessions, such as a ban on Jewish construction in parts of Jerusalem conquered by Jordan in 1948, before negotiations for a real peace have even begun.
Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its GDP is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called “unprecedented.”
What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency? Not one.
Indeed, long before the Biden incident, Abbas refused even to resume direct negotiations with Israel. That’s why the Obama administration has to resort to “proximity talks” — a procedure that sets us back 35 years to before Anwar Sadat’s groundbreaking visit to Jerusalem.
And Clinton demands that Israel show its seriousness about peace?
Now that’s an insult.
So why this astonishing one-sidedness? Because Obama likes appeasing enemies while beating up on allies — therefore Israel shouldn’t take it personally (according to Robert Kagan)? Because Obama wants to bring down the current Israeli coalition government (according to Jeffrey Goldberg)?
Or is it because Obama fancies himself the historic redeemer whose irresistible charisma will heal the breach between Christianity and Islam or, if you will, between the post-imperial West and the Muslim world — and has little patience for this pesky Jewish state that brazenly insists on its right to exist, and even more brazenly on permitting Jews to live in its own ancient, historical and now present capital?
Who knows? Perhaps we should ask those Obama acolytes who assured the 63 percent of Americans who support Israel — at least 97 percent of those supporters, mind you, are non-Jews — about candidate Obama’s abiding commitment to Israel.
— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. firstname.lastname@example.org