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.

Obama serious 311 (photo credit: AP)
Obama serious 311
(photo credit: AP)
First, a little moral clarity on our crisis with Washington. If it werepossible to build 1,600 apartments for Palestinians in the Jewish partsof Jerusalem, there would be no problem with Ramat Shlomo, the plannedhousing project that set off the Obama administration’s anger.
If you could build Palestinian housing in Jewish Jerusalem, thenIsrael’s capital would be a city with liberty, justice and equality forall, and Ramat Shlomo would just be another  neighborhood.
But you can’t build housing for Palestinians in Jewish Jerusalem. ByIsraeli law, Arabs are effectively prohibited not only from buildingnew homes but even from buying old ones in the Jewish parts of the city.
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 sincethe end of the Six Day War, and now about 200,000 Jewish residents liveon the “liberated” side of Jerusalem. Ramat Shlomo would increase theirpopulation by another 10,000 or so. The system for Jews and Arabs inJerusalem is not liberty, justice and equality. The system is separateand unequal, and this has been official policy in Israel’s capital for43 years. The only way to change it, the only possible way to bringdemocracy to Jerusalem, is to let the Palestinians build their capitalon their side of the city, the side Israel conquered in 1967.
The problem with Ramat Shlomo is that it takes away that much more landfrom a would-be Palestinian capital, making it that much harder tocreate a Palestinian state next to Israel, which makes it that muchharder to bring liberty, justice, equality and peace to this land.
Forget the embarrassment of Joe Biden – this, finally, is why the Obamaadministration is in the right and the Netanyahu government is in thewrong: 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 israising such hell with our government. The larger reason is that theRamat 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 absolutefreeze on new construction over the Green Line, including in eastJerusalem, Obama was letting himself in for one humiliation afteranother, one reminder of his gutlessness after another, one nail in thecoffin of his Middle East policy after another – because everyone knowsthat this Israeli government is not about to stop building settlements.
And this Israeli prime minister is not about to start negotiatingseriously with the Palestinians, either. Netanyahu has pushed the peaceprocess back a decade. He’s pronounced the territorial offers made byhis predecessors Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak to be null and
void. On Jerusalem, he’s revived the policy of not one inch, and on theWest Bank, he has never to this day agreed to withdraw from any part ofit or ask a single settler to leave.
AS FOR the idea of his coming around to the two-state solution, I’msure this gives him a laugh. The conditions he places on Palestinianstatehood – no army, no right to make military alliances, no control ofits airspace, no control of its borders – are the same conditions
he used to say, correctly, were “incongruent” with statehood. He hasn’tchanged. If somebody can explain the difference between Palestinianstatehood, Netanyahu-style, and Palestinian autonomy, Begin-style, I’dlike to hear it.
This is what the Obama administration is dealing with, this is what ithas to look forward to in the peace process. This is what we, thePalestinians and everyone else have to look forward to – a steadydeterioration leading to war, or to the Palestinians demanding Israelicitizenship, or to some other disaster.
I was surprised to hear Obama’s mouthpieces reading Israel the riot actthe way they did. After his surrender on the settlement freeze, Ididn’t think he had the guts, I didn’t think he was enough of a fighterto issue such orders. And I wouldn’t bet he won’t wilt again –
since 1967, every US president has opposed the settlements, and everyone 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 aJewish, democratic state is for the West, led by the US, to tell thiscountry: Either get off the Palestinians’ backs or find yourself somenew allies.
Is Obama ready to do that? Probably not. But his outrage over the RamatShlomo affair was definitely an encouraging sign. He served notice toNetanyahu that continuing this “screw you” policy to the Palestiniansis now dangerous.
It’s about time. Whoever wants to save Israel as a Jewish, democraticstate should strengthen Obama’s stand. Whoever’s prepared to watchIsrael steadily deteriorate should strengthen Netanyahu’s.