Israeli leaders say they're bewildered by the Obama administration's "obsession" with West Bank settlement growth. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was recently quoted asking/grumbling "what do they want from me?" His aides told reporters and American Jewish leaders that Washington's position on settlements is "childish", "stupid" and "delusional" and that the Obama team should "come to its senses."
I don't think that Netanyahu and his aides are genuinely perplexed or mystified by the administration's demand that Israel stop all settlement construction in the West Bank. They know why settlements are an obstruction to earnestly negotiating a peace deal with the Palestinians. They know that settlements are an obstacle to the implementation of a two-state solution and therefore an impediment to America's policy in the region. They also know that Israel is committed to the roadmap peace plan, which calls for freezing all settlement activity including "natural growth".
What they apparently refuse to understand is that this president, unlike his predecessors in the White House, really means it. He genuinely means it when he says he intends to push vigorously for a comprehensive Middle East peace deal that includes the creation of a Palestinian state. This president means what he says and says what he thinks. President Barack Obama promised Americans to always tell them the truth. He is doing the same with his interlocutors overseas.
Israelis who know about my experience with the Democratic Party and with Chicago politics often ask me what Barack Obama is really trying to achieve in the Middle East and why he insists on an Israeli settlement freeze. What is really behind it, they ask. I tell my Israeli friends that they don't need my expertise. The answer is simple. There is no hidden agenda. There is no need to guess or read the tea leaves. Obama's public policy is his real policy. What you see is what you get. Straight and simple.
Furthermore, Obama resents the politics of winks-and-nods. He resents the years of saying one thing and doing another that characterized Israel-US relations, particularly with regard to the construction of West Bank settlements. He says it. "Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama recently told National Public Radio. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also US interests." Settlements, he said, are a part of that.
In a recent interview with the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, Obama correctly pointed out that "there is a Kabuki dance going on constantly" with regard to Middle East peace efforts. He boldly added: "That is what I would like to see broken down. I am going to be holding up a mirror and saying: 'Here is the situation, and the US is prepared to work with all of you to deal with these problems.'" He then said: "Leaders have to lead, and, hopefully, they will get supported by their people."
Obama is leading. He is doing so boldly and transparently, with the kind of credibility and charisma--both domestically and internationally--that many of his predecessors lacked. I believe that if regional and international leaders rise to the challenge and the promise of President Obama, they may find in him the one who will finally broker lasting peace between Jews and Arabs.
If Netanyahu and his team seriously consider the president's agenda, they may realize--as well they should--that it constitutes a rare opportunity for ending, once and for all, the Arab-Israel conflict, including Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. President Obama clearly stated why a freeze on settlements is imperative. He is seeking meaningful negotiations toward a final resolution of the conflict. For such negotiations to be held in earnest, Israel cannot take measures that prejudge their outcome and should not engage in actions that Palestinians and their Arab brethren throughout the Middle East view as provocative and aggressive.
Obviously, the Palestinians should take steps to show that they are serious about peace negotiations and Arab governments should do their part to support peace efforts, and the president is pushing on these fronts. But what the Arabs do or not do doesn't change what Israel should do.
We at Americans for Peace Now, and our friends at Israel's Peace Now movement, believe that for the sake of its security, stability and long-term wellbeing, Israel should immediately reverse the settlement enterprise. And now, particularly now, instead of seeking "shticks and tricks" to evade a settlement freeze--in the words of New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, a staunch friend of Israel--Netanyahu should do whatever it takes to take advantage of the opportunity that Obama proposes.
As we see it, no Israeli leader can afford to turn his or her back at such an opportunity. Generations of Israelis will demand explanations from leaders who missed opportunities for peace because they insisted, instead, on entrenching Israel's devastating occupation of the West Bank.- Published 16/7/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org