Rattling the Cage: Obama, it's about time

I was surprised to hear the president’s mouthpieces reading Israel the riot act following last week’s blunder.

March 18, 2010 01:10
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama.

Obama serious 311. (photo credit: AP)


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First, a little moral clarity on our crisis with Washington. If it were possible to build 1,600 apartments for Palestinians in the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, there would be no problem with Ramat Shlomo, the planned housing project that set off the Obama administration’s anger.
If you could build Palestinian housing in Jewish Jerusalem, then Israel’s capital would be a city with liberty, justice and equality for all, and Ramat Shlomo would just be another  neighborhood.

But you can’t build housing for Palestinians in Jewish Jerusalem. By Israeli law, Arabs are effectively prohibited not only from building new homes but even from buying old ones in the Jewish parts of the city.

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Meanwhile, Jews can buy and build in the capital wherever they want – in the Jewish parts and  the Arab parts. This has been going on since the end of the Six Day War, and now about 200,000 Jewish residents live on the “liberated” side of Jerusalem. Ramat Shlomo would increase their population by another 10,000 or so. The system for Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem is not liberty, justice and equality. The system is separate and unequal, and this has been official policy in Israel’s capital for 43 years. The only way to change it, the only possible way to bring democracy to Jerusalem, is to let the Palestinians build their capital on their side of the city, the side Israel conquered in 1967.

The problem with Ramat Shlomo is that it takes away that much more land from a would-be Palestinian capital, making it that much harder to create a Palestinian state next to Israel, which makes it that much harder to bring liberty, justice, equality and peace to this land.

Forget the embarrassment of Joe Biden – this, finally, is why the Obama administration is in the right and the Netanyahu government is in the wrong: because the US position upholds the principle of democracy, while the Israeli position upholds the principle of separate and unequal.

I know, of course, that this is not why the Obama administration is raising such hell with our government. The larger reason is that the Ramat Shlomo announcement during Biden’s visit reminded the world of the disastrous weakness Barack Obama had shown by caving in to
Binyamin Netanyahu on the settlement freeze.

By failing to stand by his administration’s demand for an absolute freeze on new construction over the Green Line, including in east Jerusalem, Obama was letting himself in for one humiliation after another, one reminder of his gutlessness after another, one nail in the coffin of his Middle East policy after another – because everyone knows that this Israeli government is not about to stop building settlements.

And this Israeli prime minister is not about to start negotiating seriously with the Palestinians, either. Netanyahu has pushed the peace process back a decade. He’s pronounced the territorial offers made by his predecessors Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak to be null and
void. On Jerusalem, he’s revived the policy of not one inch, and on the West Bank, he has never to this day agreed to withdraw from any part of it or ask a single settler to leave.

AS FOR the idea of his coming around to the two-state solution, I’m sure this gives him a laugh. The conditions he places on Palestinian statehood – no army, no right to make military alliances, no control of its airspace, no control of its borders – are the same conditions
he used to say, correctly, were “incongruent” with statehood. He hasn’t changed. If somebody can explain the difference between Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu-style, and Palestinian autonomy, Begin-style, I’d like to hear it.

This is what the Obama administration is dealing with, this is what it has to look forward to in the peace process. This is what we, the Palestinians and everyone else have to look forward to – a steady deterioration leading to war, or to the Palestinians demanding Israeli citizenship, or to some other disaster.

I was surprised to hear Obama’s mouthpieces reading Israel the riot act the way they did. After his surrender on the settlement freeze, I didn’t think he had the guts, I didn’t think he was enough of a fighter to issue such orders. And I wouldn’t bet he won’t wilt again –
since 1967, every US president has opposed the settlements, and every one has turned a blind eye to their growth except George H.W. Bush.

As I’ve written before, I think the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish, democratic state is for the West, led by the US, to tell this country: Either get off the Palestinians’ backs or find yourself some new allies.

Is Obama ready to do that? Probably not. But his outrage over the Ramat Shlomo affair was definitely an encouraging sign. He served notice to Netanyahu that continuing this “screw you” policy to the Palestinians is now dangerous.

It’s about time. Whoever wants to save Israel as a Jewish, democratic state should strengthen Obama’s stand. Whoever’s prepared to watch Israel steadily deteriorate should strengthen Netanyahu’s.

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