When Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel
was undermined by Israel's surprise growth of settlements
in Palestinian areas, the situation quickly spun out of contro
l. Debate surged from questions of diplomacy to concern that the U.S.-Israeli partnership was fraying
. But there's more to it
than that. A number of complex factors play into the alliance: Notoriously complex Israeli politics, President Obama's wider Middle
East agenda, and even unquestioned cultural assumptions have all fed
this week's fallout.
- Balancing Israel Against Middle East
The New York Times' Maureen Dowd points out that
President Obama has worked hard to gain support among Middle East Arab
nations. "Obama is so unpopular in Israel that he has nothing to lose by
smacking our ally" over settlements and diplomacy. "But the president
has a lot to gain with Arabs disillusioned by the failure of the
pre-emptive Nobel Prize winner to make good on his vaunted Cairo promise
to resolve the Palestinian issue."
- U.S. Working In Domestic
Israeli Politics The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg credits
the White House with understanding and working within Israel's
contentious domestic politics. "Obama is not trying to destroy America's
relations with Israel; he's trying to organize Tzipi Livni's campaign
for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based
centrist government." Obama would "rather have a Netanyahu who is being
pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the
- Should America Escalate or Ignore Israel-Palestine
Issues? The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl shakes
his head. "By seizing on the issue of Jewish settlement in
Jerusalem, President Obama has, for the second time in a year, started
one of the few fights that the United States cannot win with Israel. In
so doing he has forced Palestinian and Arab leaders to toughen their own
positions and threatened to create an impasse that would stop the
indirect peace talks his diplomats just set up before they can begin." Diehl says the U.S. should adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on
issues like Israeli settlements.
- America's Myopic Focus on
Israel The New Republic's Marty Peretz worries that, by focusing
on Israel-U.S. tension, half of the Isreal-Palestine equation is ignored,
undermining efforts on both sides. "Obama seems to think that he is the
superego of the conflict and that his function is to hand out dicta on
how to end it. But he has no dicta for the Palestinians and plenty for
the Israelis. The Jewish state has many conditions under which it would
be prepared to give more rather than less. Alas, the president can’t
bring himself to publicly acknowledge this."
- Why Can't Israel
Back Moderate Palestinians? The New York Times' Thomas Friedman sees a
divergent set of Palestinian actors, with one half focused on diplomacy
with Israel and the other, Iran-backed half focused on fomenting endless
Muslim-Jewish war. Israel, with the U.S., could do a lot to cleave the
two groups, alienate Iran's belligerent Palestinians, and promote a
peace-seeking Palestinian movement. Unfortunately, Israel's leaders seem
uniformly skeptical of Palestinians, but Friedman says much progress
could be made if this changed.
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