Monday, April 26, 2010

On Israel, Obama Playing the Mideast Game Wrong

Mortimer B. Zuckerman
U.S. News and World
23 April '10

The Middle East peace process is stalled thanks to a second deadlock engineered by the United States government. President Obama began the process with his call for a settlement freeze in 2009 and escalates it now with a major change of American policy on Jerusalem.

The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its capital—in an exclusively Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem. This, despite the fact that all former administrations had unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain part of Israel in any final peace agreement. Objecting to this early phase of the planning process for housing in East Jerusalem is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem in any settlement—even before the start of final status talks with the Palestinians. In 1995, it was by a substantial bipartisan majority that Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act calling for the movement of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—and equally importantly, stating that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty.

But Obama has undermined the confidence of the Israelis in the United States from the start of his presidency. He uses the same term, "settlements," ambiguously for both massive neighborhoods that are the homes to tens of thousands of Jews and for illegal outposts, raising the question for the Israelis about whether the U.S. administration really understands the issue. The Palestinian Authority followed the president's lead and refused to proceed with planned proximity talks until Israel stops all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem.

The president's attitude toward Jerusalem betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the city. After Israel was recognized as a new state in 1948, it was immediately attacked by the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The attacks were repelled, but the Jordanians, who were asked not to join the Egyptian war effort, conquered East Jerusalem and separated it from its western half. In 1967, the Arab armies again sought to destroy Israel, but it prevailed in the famous Six-Day War and reconquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip.

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