Posted by on December 05, 2012 in Blog

After Palestine made a successful bid for “non-member” status at the UN last week, Israel announced its intention to build 3000 new illegal housing units on Palestinian lands, including in the E1 area to the north-east of Jerusalem (the corridor connecting occupied East Jerusalem to the massive Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim). Building settlements in the E1 zone would cut the West Bank in half and conclusively separate Jerusalem from the Palestinian areas. In effect, Israel responded to a Palestinian step to advance the two-state solution by taking a step that would effectively kill the already critically injured peace plan supported by the international community to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The Europeans, behaving like neither they nor the U.S. ever did before, decided to take stronger steps against Israel's plans. According to Haaretz, “Europe has been putting heavy diplomatic pressure on Israel to reverse its decision to proceed with development plans for a new neighborhood in the area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem.” 5 European countries, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK, summoned their Israeli envoys to communicate their protests. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, set to meet Bibi Netanyahu today, is expected to offer Netanyahu this warning: promote peace with the Palestinians in a meaningful way or face global isolation.

In Washington, there was condemnation from the Obama administration, but there was no pressure. To aggravate the Obama administration some more, an Israeli official said that building in E1 as retaliation was not aimed at the Palestinians, but at President Obama for refusing to endorse the 2004 Sharon-Bush letter that approved of some settlement expansion in the West Bank. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also described the Israeli move as a “slap in the face” of Obama.

Former American Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said “This is not just another few houses in Jerusalem or another hilltop in the West Bank. This is one of the most sensitive areas of territory, and I would hope the United States will lay down the law.” But Aaron David Miller, Vice President at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, doesn’t think Obama is in a position to lay down the law. He described Netanyahu’s timing as effective, noting that Obama is busy with difficult fiscal negotiations in Congress and an impending challenge with Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State. “Obama may be an empowered second-term president,” he said, “but he’s still constrained on the Hill on the Israel issue; and Bibi is running for re-election.”

Well, Obama will always be constrained on the Hill on Israel issues, and the question becomes this: is the U.S. serious when it says that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a national security imperative? If we let Israel off the hook on something this dangerous, and continue to offer them unconditional military and diplomatic support, then we might as well stop pretending to be so invested in Middle East peace, and officially renounce our leadership role in mediating any future talks.

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