Wash Post: Don’t just be tough on Israel


The Washington Post editorializes Thursday that President Obama has been "guilty of missteps" in his "absolutist demand" for an Israeli settlement freeze, and that the policy appears to be backfiring. The editorial, entitled "Tough on Israel: Why President Obama’s battle against Jewish settlements could prove self-defeating," notes that "only one country has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel."

The editorial says that Obama did need to "build credibility with Arab governments" when he entered office, but has gone about it the wrong way:

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu’s initial concessions — he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations — Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement "freeze." Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the "confidence-building" concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration’s final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world — a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed. If he is to be effective in brokering a peace deal, Mr. Obama will need to show both sides that they can trust him — and he must be tough on more than one country.

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