July 30, 2009
To The Letters Editor
Getting Tough on Israel
Re your editorial
"Tough on Israel" (July 30), Judge Richard Goldstone, head of the UN fact-finding mission on Israel's Gaza operation, made
a discerning observation that could be helpful to President Obama in his efforts to solve the Arab-Israel conflict. During
a recent interview on Al Jazeera, Goldstone said that the common factor in horrific acts like those that occurred in Rwanda,
Sri Lanka, Darfur and other places, is "dehumanization of the other". And the more one thinks about it, the more one realizes
that Judge Goldstone has put his finger on the root cause of the Mideast conflict
President Obama's absolutist demand
for a settlement "freeze" in Israel that would prevent adding even one extra room to an existing house in Jerusalem, without
at the same time protesting the inflammatory incitement to hate Jews and infidels that continues unabated in official media,
schools and mosques in the Palestinian areas, cannot contribute one iota to towards a peaceful solution.
To be effective
in attaining change for the better, not only in the Mideast but in other conflict zones, President Obama will need to balance
his pressure on Israel by protesting the virulent incitement that continues to provoke violence.
Editorial in the Washington Post
Getting Tough on Israel
Why President Obama's battle against Jewish settlements could prove self-defeating
July 30, 2009
ONE OF THE MORE striking results of the Obama administration's first six months is that only one country
has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel. The new administration has pushed a reset button
with Russia and sent new ambassadors to Syria and Venezuela; it has offered olive branches to Cuba and Burma. But for nearly
three months it has been locked in a public confrontation with Israel over Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem and the
West Bank. To a less visible extent, the two governments also have differed over policy toward Iran.
This week a parade
of senior U.S. officials has been visiting Jerusalem to tackle the issues: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Middle East
envoy George J. Mitchell, national security adviser James L. Jones and senior aide Dennis Ross. But the tensions persist,
and public opinion is following: The Pew Global Attitudes Project reported last week that Israel was the only country among
25 surveyed where the public's image of the United States was getting worse rather than better.
In part the trouble
was unavoidable: Taking office with a commitment to pursuing Middle East peace, Mr. Obama faced a new, right-wing Israeli
government whose prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to accept the goal of Palestinian statehood. In part it was
tactical: By making plain his disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu on statehood and Jewish settlements, Mr. Obama hoped to force
an Israeli retreat while building credibility with Arab governments -- two advances that he arguably needs to set the stage
for a serious peace process.
But the administration also is guilty of missteps. Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu's
initial concessions -- he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted
by previous U.S. administrations -- Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement "freeze." Palestinian
and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering
the "confidence-building" concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans
against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active
during the Bush administration's final year, have yet to resume.
U.S. and Israeli officials are working
on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined
period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab
world -- a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place.
At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues
on which U.S. clout is most needed. If he is to be effective in brokering a peace deal, Mr. Obama will need to show both sides
that they can trust him -- and he must be tough on more than one country.