Settlements in Palestine

From Ha’aretz Israel News. Haaretz is the progressive newspaper in Israel.

Settlement issue isn’t Israel’s problem, it’s Obama’s

Arab states draft UN resolution on settlements is putting Washington in the awkward position of having to veto a resolution it absolutely agrees with.

By Natasha Mozgovaya
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the U.S. administration doesn’t see the proposed resolution which demands an immediate freeze of all construction at the settlements, discussed at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, as helpful to the peace process.

In fact, it’s mostly unhelpful to the Obama Administration.

Since the focus on the subject became a serious headache for the American peace brokers, for months now, State Department spokesman is carefully avoiding harsh rebukes of Netanyahu’s policy, sticking to the more diplomatic “our position on settlements hasn’t changed and it’s well-known.” But it is one thing, to try presenting what currently seems as a dead end as an alternative route to an agreement, after the bid of settlements’ freeze was lost, – and quite another, vetoing resolution that reflects the U.S. administration’s consistent position on settlements.

Unsurprisingly, there was no lack of voices supporting or rejecting the American veto, traditionally cast to protect Israel from resolutions seen as harmful to Israel. Bipartisan group of Senators called on Secretary Clinton to veto the Resolution, whereas leftist U.S. Jewish organizations and former U.S. officials and senior diplomats called on President Obama to abstain from the veto this time, citing resolution’s consistency with the U.S. policy – and the damage settlements cause to the Israeli and the U.S. interests.

The best way for the Obama Administration to avoid the embarrassment of this vote expected in a several weeks is to provide some tangible success at the peace process that one can barely call it a “process” – the only thing that seems to move is the US envoys sent to Jerusalem, Ramallah and the neighboring capitals, trying to achieve some breakthrough.

Some might claim there is no difference between the recent wave of recognition of the Palestinian state by different countries and the failed attempt of late Yasser Arafat. Maen Rashid Areikat, head of the General PLO mission to Washington, who was allowed to raise the Palestinian flag on the mission’s building, is convinced there is a whole lot of difference. “Now countries are recognizing the 1967 borders, something that Israel has so far failed to acknowledge and recognize. They are not only recognizing the idea of Palestinian state, but the physical borders, and that’s why this wave of recognition is different from the previous one. It specifically mentions the future borders of the Palestinian state. The U.S. President who said he hopes to see the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN – I hope this goal will be realized by September 2011.”

This week in Washington, President Obama did not hesitate to rebuke his guest, the Chinese President Hu Jintao, on the human rights issue. The good news is that the past “humiliations” at the White House weren’t kept exclusively for Netanyahu. As they say, nothing personal/ The bad news for Netanyahu is that when Obama comes to the conclusion appeasement doesn’t work, he can be harsh. As with China’s case, the actual leverage the U.S. President can use against Israel is limited, unless he is willing to pay the price. The question is, why aren’t the supposed partners willing to do so.

The chances the U.S. will abandon this conflict, leaving the stage to forces that are already marking territory, are slim. However, the current “nuetral” diplomatic style might be dragged well until the next presidential elections. The Palestinians are trying to work through other channels. The question is which other channels Israel has.

And a sad postscript for this week:

Unsurprisingly, calls for a more civil public discourse in the US, following the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that left 6 dead, didn’t produce much results. The House of Representatives proceeded this week to vote to repeal the Healthcare bill (it wouldn’t go much farther than that with Senate still controlled by the Democrats, but it showed President Obama that his Arizona speech, probably one of the best he ever made, wasn’t convincing enough to change the Republican Party leadership plans for this Congress session).

Then there was some agitation surrounding the comments made this week by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Congressman Steve Cohen.

Bentley, speaking at a church, said “if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters, So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother” – raising protests of non-Christians and even atheists.

And Cohen was the second person this month after Sarah Paling to invoke “blood libel”. Speaking Tuesday night at the House of Representatives, Congressman from Tennessee likened the Republican rhetoric against healthcare reform to Goebbels lies.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it–believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

ADL called Cohen’s remarks “offensive”; Republican Jewish Coalition dubbed it “a very disturbing development”; “Bnai Brith International” called remarks “unacceptable.” Cohen, who is a Democrat, was criticized even by NJDC (National Jewish Democratic Council), which later updated their blog with apology from him. Naturally, both men apologized and clarified their positions. But it’s quite amazing, after all the experiences showing that these analogies never benefit those who invoke them, and it always distorts the focus of the debate, yet it happens over and over again.

As summarized it Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: “We hope both Rep. Cohen and Gov. Bentley will use these unfortunate episodes as an educational opportunity and share with colleagues why this rhetoric that divides people along religious lines and rhetoric that suggests comparisons between Nazi atrocities and public policy debates are counterproductive”.


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