President Obama is disappointing many American Jews who voted for him, writes guest columnist Nevet Basker. "President Obama is especially misguided in pushing for a ban on Israeli construction in Jerusalem."
I AM an Israeli-American, a dual citizen, born and raised in Israel and living in the United States On the Israeli political spectrum, I am a moderate, pragmatic dove — and a longtime critic of the settlement movement. Like most American Jews, I voted for Barack Obama. And like many who care about Israel, I am now wondering why the president is embarking on a well-intentioned but ill-conceived effort to advance peace between Israel and its neighbors.
President Obama is especially misguided in pushing for a ban on Israeli construction in Jerusalem. Israelis have already proven their willingness to dismantle and remove settlements in the hope of achieving peace. They uprooted communities in the Sinai Peninsula as part of a peace agreement with Egypt in 1982, and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza four years ago. (The latter concession did not turn out so well; the result was not the desired progress toward peace but the establishment of a violent Islamic regime in Gaza and incessant rocket and mortar fire on cities and towns in southern Israel.)
Besides being on ancient Jewish land going back three millennia, the West Bank settlements are also not an impediment to a potential future two-state solution. There are more than a million Arab citizens of Israel, and there is no reason Israeli Jews cannot live in a future Palestinian state, just like I am an Israeli living in the U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unequivocal proclamation that all settlement activity must stop is an uncharacteristic display of rigidity from an administration that, on other issues, is sensitive to nuance and advocates for dialogue and accommodation. Expropriating private Palestinian land to build a new settlement is not the same as adding a bedroom for a new baby in an existing community. The administration’s absolutist position is a no-win proposition, leaving no room for negotiation.
Secretary Clinton’s categorical statements also overlook the political and demographic realities of the region. The French Hill and Gilo neighborhoods of Jerusalem are not the same as Ma’ale Adumim, a city of more than 30,000 east of Jerusalem. Different again are Jewish neighborhoods in predominantly Arab cities like Hebron, frontier villages, and “wildcat” outposts. The U.S. administration is painting them all with the same broad brush stroke, condemning all “settlements” — including legal Jewish construction on Jewish-owned land on sovereign (if disputed) Israeli territory. This is not the kind of political acumen we have come to expect from Obama or his secretary of state.
Most dangerously, the indiscriminate approach ignores previous American commitments. In an April 2004 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Bush acknowledged “realities on the ground” regarding the borders of a potential future Palestinian state. He explicitly noted, “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
Reneging on this understanding is damaging to America’s credibility and moral standing, and may have serious repercussions for broader international relations. Imagine the fallout if the U.S. were to arbitrarily dismiss and absolve itself from its commitments to NATO, Taiwan or NAFTA. Worse, President Obama’s policy shift constitutes a double standard, as a key American requirement from any Palestinian government is that it abides by previous agreements.
Israelis are understandably skeptical of quick-fix “solutions” to the 60-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A “solution” that is based on disproportionate pressure on one side, views all settlements as similar and wrong, and ignores previous agreements is an obvious non-starter.
Nevet Basker is the Northwest regional chair of StandWithUs, an Israel education organization.