Instead of pressing Israel to freeze construction, Obama should insist that the Palestinians sit at the negotiating table without preconditions.
Netanyahu and Obama shake hands Photo: REUTERS
On several occasions during his first term – particularly at times when it
seemed that relations between Jerusalem and Washington were strained – The
Jerusalem Post called on US President Barack Obama to visit Israel.
the visit is apparently about to happen and we welcome the US president with
Obama’s visit, which will include a stop in Amman and a West
Bank town – most likely Ramallah or Jericho – sends an important message to
Israel. That the US president would choose to make Jerusalem the first foreign
visit of his second term reflect the importance Washington sees in Israel as an
ally and, as US Ambassador Dan Shapiro put it, demonstrates “the depth, breadth
and quality of the Israeli-US partnership.”
Despite Obama’s many domestic
worries and the growing importance the US sees in cultivating ties with the Far
East, the visit is evidence that Washington is willing to devote time and
resources to ties with the Jewish state.
Such a visit would do much to
fix the impression given during Obama’s last visit to the region in 2009, when
the US president failed to visit Israel and addressed his famous “A New
Beginning” speech at Cairo University primarily to Muslims.
during Obama’s upcoming visit include matters of utmost importance to both
regional stability and Israel’s security. The most pressing issue is Iran’s
unyielding march toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Obama and Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu will undoubtedly devote a large portion of their meeting to a
reevaluation of the impact that sanctions have had on Iran’s regime and updates
on the progress of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, including discussion
of military options.
Another issue of cardinal importance to Israel is
Syria’s huge arsenal of chemical weapons. Acquired over decades, President
Basher Assad’s regime has control over one of the world’s largest stockpiles of
chemical weapons. As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, a number
of dangerous scenarios could be played out. These chemical weapons could fall
into the hands of Hezbollah or one of the al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups that
has aligned itself with the Syrian opposition. Another possibility is that
Assad, with nothing to lose, will unleash the chemical weapons against either
his own people or against Israel.
Though White House spokesman Jay Carney
said that Obama would not be bringing a new peace plan with him to the region,
there has been speculation that jump-starting negotiations with the Palestinians
might be another reason for Obama’s visit, especially since Secretary of State
John Kerry has expressed his desire to get the sides to sit down and
Nevertheless, the White House is rightly downplaying peace talks.
Obama is probably not interested in risking his credibility by building
expectations for a breakthrough at a time when the chances for constructive
negotiations seem more distant than ever.
And the deadlock in talks is in
no small part due to a major policy blunder Obama made during his first
By demanding an Israeli construction freeze not just in settlements
in Judea and Samaria but in consensus east Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Ramat
Shlomo, Obama hardened the Palestinian stance.
The Palestinians could
not, after all, be expected to demand anything less than what a US president had
demanded, even if in the past Palestinians had been willing to enter into
negotiations without the precondition of a building freeze. Obama’s predecessors
understood that settlements are a derivative issue – if we and the Palestinians
settle borders, the settlement issue can also be solved.
To make headway,
Obama must admit his first-term failure. Instead of pressing Israel to freeze
construction, the US president should insist that the Palestinians sit at the
negotiating table without preconditions.
Even if the Palestinians refuse
– which they undoubtedly would – the trip would not be for naught. By taking the
time to visit, Obama will be making an important statement about the strong ties
that continue to exist between the US and Israel.