Cool it!

Our government can create a better atmosphere by reiterating Israel's "no new settlements" policy.

obama netanyahu 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
obama netanyahu 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
To illustrate the nadir to which America-Israel relations have sunk, one Hebrew-language tabloid revealed that when IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi travelled to Washington several weeks back to meet with US decision-makers about the worrisome speed with which Iran is moving toward a nuclear bomb, neither Secretary of Defense Robert Gates nor Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would make time to see him. The trip, said the paper, ended in failure. Shocking story - but not true. Ashkenazi's visit didn't take place weeks ago, but months ago. The general chose to cut his visit short to participate in urgent cabinet deliberations about Gilad Schalit. And he wasn't in the US on official business, but to attend a Friends of the IDF fund-raiser. Then there was The New York Times report about Washington toying with letting Israel fend for itself against the UN's built-in Muslim and Arab majority, to pressure for a settlement freeze. On Tuesday, administration sources denied the story. There are those in America and Israel who, albeit for differing reasons, think talking-up tension in the US-Israel relationship is a good idea. For those who want to create a political environment conducive to forcing Israeli concessions, it makes sense to spotlight differences over settlements; which is also a convenient way to dissociate the pro-Israel community in America from Israeli government policies, since support for the settlement enterprise is hardly widespread. That's why Monday's loutish behavior by the "hilltop youth" in Samaria who attacked Palestinians, torched fields and burned tires was a godsend to proponents of a settlement freeze. Such images strengthen the myth that all settlers are wild-eyed religious fanatics to whom violence is second nature. Meanwhile, dovish American Jews, hankering for Obama to impose "peace," are promoting a story that has White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel purportedly telling an unnamed Jewish leader that no matter what, a Palestinian state will emerge in the next four years; and that if Israel wants action on Iran, it will have to withdraw from West Bank territory. This account portrays the savvy Emanuel as not only petulant, but naive - as if the Palestinians have no role to play, and Israel alone will bear the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran. Playing up tensions with the Obama administration also serves the interests of Netanyahu's domestic opponents. One pundit wrote Tuesday that the US and Israel aren't heading for a collision - they've already crashed. Implication: All would be well if Tzipi Livni was premier. Paradoxically, commentators on the Right are saying exactly the same thing: that Washington has launched an all-out diplomatic and media assault against Israel that's "worse than a crisis." We ask them: What useful purpose does it serve to demonize so popular a president, or claim his policies are motivated by animus, when it's hard to discern where they differ substantively from those of his predecessors? GOING into his Thursday reconciliation speech in Cairo addressed to the Arab and Muslim world, Obama has been signaling that he expects gestures from them to encourage Israeli reciprocity. To interviewers reveling in the perceived chasm between Israel and Washington, the president is saying that unlike the 24/7 news cycle, which feeds on crises, diplomacy requires patience. And as The New York Times reported yesterday, he wants to play down differences over settlements. Obama is reportedly planning a major Washington policy address next month detailing his approach to Arab-Israel peacemaking. Those who want to manipulate the environment to Israel's detriment will continue to foster an ambiance of crisis. But those who want what's best for Israel should be working in the opposite direction. Our government can create a better atmosphere by permanently dismantling unauthorized outposts; reiterating Israel's "no new settlements" policy, and rethinking the wisdom of refusing to endorse previous Israeli governments' policy on the two-state solution. Can we ask Obama to honor understandings about settlement blocs reached by Israel with his predecessor when we are not honoring agreements his predecessor reached with us? Once we have taken these steps, we can feel more comfortable about disagreeing with other Obama policies without seeming to be disagreeable.