Monday, September 27, 2010

Let Him Breathe

J.J. Goldberg on President Abbas' recent charm offensive towards the American Jewish community:
Abbas’ dinner was the climax of a day jam-packed with heated appeals to American Jews to show enthusiasm for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The floating pep rally might have been a product of timing, given all the international leaders gathered in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Perhaps it was inspired by the approaching Sukkot holiday with its tradition of inviting strangers to dine — or, alternatively, its pointed evocation of a homeless, stateless people lost in the desert.

It also reflected the growing sense in Israel and the West Bank that negotiations can’t succeed without President Obama’s involvement, and that Obama can’t get in and stay in unless American Jews back off and give him some running room.


1 comment:

N. Friedman said...

Indeed. It would help if President Obama did things that encouraged talks. He has, in fact, done the opposite, creating the current circumstance where preconditions to talking exist. Although I am a lifelong Democrat, I am disgusted by Obama. As Richard Cohen writes in today's edition of The Washington Post:

Given the highly emotional nature of the settlement issue, it made no sense for the administration -- actually, President Obama himself -- to promote an absolute moratorium on construction as the prerequisite for peace talks. The government of Binyamin Netanyahu complied, under extreme pressure, but only to a 10-month moratorium. For Netanyahu, this was a major concession. He heads a right-wing coalition that takes settlements very seriously. Netanyahu had a choice: accede to Obama's terms and have his government collapse, or end the moratorium. On Sunday, with the 10 months up, he chose the latter.

We will see if the end of the moratorium means the end of peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not -- or not yet -- ended negotiations. He's going to confer with his fellow Arab leaders. In the meantime, Obama ought to confer with someone who knows the region -- and listen to him or her. Trouble is, many experts have told him that his emphasis on settlements was the wrong way to go. As late as last week and the succession of meetings held at the United Nations, it was clear that Netanyahu would not ask his Cabinet to extend the settlement freeze. Yet not only did the White House reject this warning, the president repeated his call for a freeze. "Our position on this issue is well-known," Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. "We believe that the moratorium should be extended." Well, it wasn't.

From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews. Certain right-wing Israelis have reacted with the same lack of empathy. One settlements leader, Gershon Mesika, called Obama by his middle name, Hussein -- a juvenile attempt at an insult.

The Obama approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been counterproductive. Either the Palestinians have to back down from their -- even more importantly, Obama's -- insistence that all settlements be frozen in place or Netanyahu has to back down from his pledge that any moratorium would be temporary. Either Abbas or Netanyahu has to lose credibility and neither man can afford to. They are not mere negotiators; they are heads of government.