Allowing tensions with Israel to simmer is not in America's best strategic interests
The Obama administration must move to ease tensions with Israel. Allowing relations to fray with our truest ally in the Middle East is not in the best interests of the United States or Israel and presents a threat to the stability of the region.
The White House continues to blow out of proportion what should have been a minor flap that began when an Israeli official announced a construction project in East Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country. President Barack Obama, who had demanded a total freeze on building in the disputed territories, took the announcement as "an affront to America" -- the administration's characterization.
Rep. Gary Peters, D-Auburn Hills, in a statement this week, offered the White House advice it should take: "It is now time to move on," Peters said. "Israel is our most trusted ally, Jerusalem is its capital, and the administration's continued focus on the incident and its excessive criticism of Israel over this incident is an unnecessary distraction from more pressing and important issues in the region, such as the potential of a nuclear Iran."
Peters, a first-term congressmen, shows a greater understanding of our strategic interests than does the president, who has mismanaged Middle East policy from the beginning.
As Peters notes, the White House response was excessive. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials used words such as "insult," "affront" and "condemn," language usually reserved for hostile nations and never for dealings with our friends.
While the announcement was ham-handed, the reality is that the construction is in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem that will not be returned to the Palestinians under any likely peace scenario.
Obama should have understood that, as he should have known that his call for a total freeze on settlement activity placed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an untenable position with his own people, who overwhelmingly reject a complete halt to settlement building. The White House made a strategic blunder in saddling Netanyahu with conditions he can't meet without undermining his own support, and as a result, his ability to negotiate the difficult concessions necessary to make peace.
A total freeze had never been an expectation of the Palestinians as a precondition to peace talks. But it is now, thanks to Obama's misreading of the political climate. Serious peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are now further away than they were when Obama committed to restart the process last year.
That's not even the biggest downside of this needless feud.
The United States and Israel, as Peters notes, must be in agreement on how to respond to the nuclear threat from Iran. But Israel is not likely to defer to an administration it feels it can't trust in dealing with an existential threat.
Finally, any sense in the region that the U.S. no longer stands solidly with Israel will embolden Arab states such as Syria and Lebanon, which are always looking for opportunities to torment the Jewish state.
Israel is among our best friends, the only nation in the Middle East that shares our democratic values and the one with which our strategic interests are most closely linked.
This spat has simmered too long already. Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the announcement. It's time to get over the perceived slight and make amends.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Obama's Need to Kick Israel
This editorial in the Detroit News on Sunday provides some needed perspective on the building going on in Jerusalem: