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what other people think

Some Find Obama’s Demands of Israel Unsettling

President Obama’s appeal in his Cairo speech for Israel to freeze its West Bank settlements is nothing new—his administration and Israel’s government have long been at odds over the issue—but the speech has brought Obama’s outlook on the Middle East peace process into the foreground. People aren’t used to hearing such evenhandedness about Israel and Palestine from an American president, and some fear that it indicates a shift in our long-standing alliance with Israel. Others, however, believe that his tough talk is vital to establishing a lasting peace agreement and is in line with what has been America’s official position for years. Today both sides are having it out in newspaper editorials and on the web.

• Charles Krauthammer writes that Obama refuses to dictate to any country except Israel, whom he demands dismantle their settlements. Refusing to support even “natural growth” in the settlements is clearly meant to “undermine and destroy these towns,” and yet it has been agreed upon in recent years that “any final peace treaty would involve Israel retaining some of the closed-in settlements—and compensating the Palestinians accordingly with land from within Israel itself.” Obama’s strategy is “not just dishonorable but self-defeating,” as Arab states will simply “sit and wait for America to deliver Israel on a platter.” [WP]

• Joe Klein says Krauthammer’s column is “misleading and evasive.” He “does not deal with the most basic question—the not-so-subtle effort by the settler movement and its far-right sponsors to create a Palestinian Swiss cheese, rather than a governable state, on the West Bank, by riddling the area with Jewish settlements.” Israel will survive in the long run if it “exists as a model of democracy and humanity, rather than a vehement occupier acting outside international law.” [Swampland/Time]

• Jennifer Rubin believes that “Obama has spread anxiety and emboldened Israel’s foes to do what they have perfected over 60 years—just wait it out, foment the grievances of the Palestinian people, and console themselves that furnished basements in Jerusalem are the moral equivalent of exploding buses.” [Contentions/Commentary]

• Caroline Glick claims that Obama’s speech yesterday “made clear that he shares the Arab world’s view that there is something basically illegitimate about the Jewish state.” She wonders, “Why would the Palestinians make a deal with Israel when they know that Obama will blame Israel for the absence of a peace agreement?” [Corner/National Review]

• The Washington Post editorial board warns that “Obama’s initiative will fail if Israel’s compliance with U.S. demands becomes the stick by which Muslims measure the ‘new beginning’ he offered. He can avoid that pitfall by continuing to speak out about the other issues he raised—and by publicly pressing Muslim governments for action on them.” [WP]

• Gershom Gorenberg insists that Obama “is not talking about universal contraception for Israeli settlers.” He’s telling Israel to maintain “its commitments under the 2003 road map for peace—in line, in fact, with American opposition to settlement building since 1967.” A freeze is “the first step toward a solution.” [American Prospect]

• The Haaretz editorial board says that “Obama does not free any side of responsibility, including his own administration,” and he’s laid out an “opportunity for a new beginning” for “Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arabs.” [Haaretz]

• Jeffrey Goldberg is amazed that after “[a]n African-American president with Muslim roots stands before the Muslim world and defends the right of Jews to a nation of their own in their ancestral homeland, and then denounces in vociferous terms the evil of Holocaust denial, people are complaining that he’s being unsympathetic to the housing needs of settlers.” [Atlantic]

• Clive Crook expects that “deflecting Israel from its current policy is likely to require more than mere words,” but if words “count for anything, give Obama his due.” [Atlantic]

• Michael Tomasky wonders why Obama is focusing specifically on the settlement issue, as opposed to something else. Probably because “they can’t really logically be defended. Everyone knows they’re a huge impediment. So they are the Achilles’ heel. . . . It’s the point on which Israelis (whether under this government or a new one) will have to give at some point.” Obama’s position on the settlements is the same as former president Bush’s, but “[t]he difference was that the Bush administration was full of people in policy-making positions who disagreed with the official policy and thus winked and never enforced it.” [Guardian UK]

• Nick Bunzi thinks “[t]he difference between President Obama’s statements and those of his predecessors is the perception that he is serious about making sure the growth does not continue.” [HuffPo]

• Craig Crawford thinks that Obama is “holding both sides accountable for progress” and that his presidency may be the “last chance” for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. [Trail Mix/CQ Politics]

• David Frum thinks “it was hardly wise to accede to the claim that America’s relationship with Muslims worldwide should depend on America’s ability to deliver a viable, functioning Palestinian state.”
[New Majority]

• The New York Times editorial board agrees with Obama but is now “waiting to hear his strategy to move the process forward.” [NYT]

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