Washington Watch: Obama’s 4 questions

Time to talk about final status issues - refugees, borders, water and J'lem.

April 2, 2010 16:46
4 minute read.
Obama at White House Seder

Obama seder 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Barack Obama, who this week attended his second White House Seder, might have Four Questions of his own for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this Passover as he contemplates a low point in US-Israel relations.

1. Bibi, what do you really want?

If you really want peace with the Palestinians, why do you have so many objections and conditions? Just when Vice President Joe Biden went to Jerusalem to announce we’ve gotten Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations, your Interior Ministry announced plans to build 1,600 homes in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians went meshuga and cancelled the talks.

So you came to Washington to talk shalom and there was another announcement of building permits, this time for Jewish housing in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah for a project financed by your friend and contributor, bingo baron Irving Moskowitz, whose goal is to drive all the Arabs out of every part of Jerusalem.

Tell me, Bibi, what do you really want? Two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security? Do you want America to be your best friend, to keep sending $3 billon a year, supplying you the best weapons in the world and providing diplomatic and political protection? Do you think that comes free of any responsibilities? Or do you just want to perpetuate the status quo and do as you please?

2. Do you understand my problem with you is not about Jerusalem?

You go around declaring “Jerusalem is not a settlement; it is our capital.” You know damn well no serious person, especially in my government, ever said it was a settlement. Of course I think Israel should stop building in east Jerusalem to give peace talks a chance. That’s neither a concession nor a surrender of any Israeli claims but an acknowledgement that the future of that area is to be negotiated. I thought we’d all agreed not to engage in provocative acts that would undermine the new talks. Whatever you two decide is fine by me.

Last year I asked for a total settlement freeze, but we dropped that and my secretary of state even praised your partial moratorium on West Bank construction as “unprecedented.” I thought we’d put that behind us until Joe Biden was blindsided. You disingenuously tried to dismiss it all as an “innocent” mistake of timing and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Until the announcement for your pal Moskowitz just before you came to see me.

Don’t give me this bubbe myseh about bureaucratic snafus. The isn’t about Jerusalem or settlements – it’s about trust. We both know it. I don’t want private promises that are contradicted in public; I want it all in writing to avoid any misunderstandings.

3. What did you really say about Jerusalem?

The more you talked about Jerusalem, the more I felt you were looking for a way out of negotiations with the Palestinians. Especially when, according to your own spokesman, you told congressional leaders that you might “put peace negotiations on hold for another year” unless Palestinians dropped their “illogical and unreasonable demand” for a total construction freeze.

But then amid all that strident rhetoric I thought I heard you drop a hint in your AIPAC speech suggesting you’re prepared to compromise on Jerusalem.

After defending construction in Jewish communities like Ramat Shlomo, you said, “All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset... Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, any building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.” The operative word appeared to be “these.”

You didn’t say “all” neighborhoods of east Jerusalem but “these,” implying the Jewish communities would remain part of Israel – something long understood by American and Palestinian leaders – and the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem would become part of the Palestinian capital. I don’t know for sure that’s what you meant, so I’d also like to have that in writing, too.

4. Do you think playing footsie with the Republicans scares me?

I’ve heard you’d like to focus any talks with the Palestinians on procedural instead of substantive issues. That’s unacceptable. It is time to get past arguing about the shape of the table and start talking about the final status issues – refugees, borders, water and, yes, Jerusalem.

You may be hoping the November congressional election will give the Republicans control of at least one chamber of Congress and they’ll work with you and your AIPAC allies as you all did in the 1990s to block president Clinton’s peace policies.

But this is 2010, not 1994, and the Republican power base is shifting from the Evangelicals, with their religious affection for Israel, to the tea partiers, with their angry calls for slashing the size and spending of government, something that could easily hit foreign aid. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the Jewish community, a vital core constituency of the Democratic party. The polls show consistently that American Jewish voters agree with me that the United States should play an active role in pressing for Israeli-Arab peace.

Washington is on spring break for Passover and Easter, and in the face of the worst crisis in US-Israel relations since the last time you were prime minister, it’s a good time, in the words of our State Department spokesman, for all of us to take “a week to 10 days” off for “assessing where we are.” Hag sameach.


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