Is Obama Campaigning for Bibi?

Gershom Gorenberg

My latest post at The Daily Beast:

“Counterproductive.” That’s the adjective that National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor used to describe the Israeli government’s first reprisal for the U.N. vote on Palestine: announcing that Israel was moving ahead on plans for a neighborhood linking Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, and authorizing 3,000 new homes for Israelis beyond the Green Line. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, choosing her words as carefully, said the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his senior cabinet forum had “set back the cause of a negotiated peace.”

Washington is a long way from Israel, culturally even more than physically. In the polite diplomatic tones of Washington, these statements were meant as harsh censure. But the Obama administration needs to know that something got seriously lost in transmission. Here on the east edge of the Mediterranean, the message was that President Obama was practically campaigning for Netanyahu’s reelection.

Harsh censure makes sense. Besides opposing settlement in general, the United States rightly objects to developing the E-1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Construction there will create a wall of Israeli settlement virtually cutting the West Bank in two.

So why doesn’t the administration’s intent come across? First, because polite diplomatic understatement is not a language widely spoken in Israel. Second, saying that Netanyahu is making it harder to achieve a two-state solution is not a terribly sharp criticism. That’s what he wants to do, and the Israeli electorate knows it.

Third, American administrations have been rebuking Israel with similar understatement since the first cabinet approval of a settlement in the West Bank in September 1967.  Back then, a State Department spokesman said the move was “inconsistent with the Israeli position as we understand it.” These words did not prevent establishment of that settlement, Kfar Etzion. The government project of settlement-building has continued ever since, and polite American objections have become background noise.

Read the rest here.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.