Obama, Oren and a bunch of talking heads


President Obama weighs in for the first time on the ongoing flap over last week’s announcement regarding Israeli building starts in Jerusalem:

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, takes to The New York Times to insist that this is not a crisis and to defend his government:

While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports. …

We should not, however, allow peace efforts, or the America-Israel alliance, to be compromised by Israel’s policy on Jerusalem. That policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.

This policy certainly applies to neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo, which, though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.

Though not uncontested, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem did not preclude the conclusion of peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Nor did it prevent the Palestinians from negotiating with Israel for more than 15 years after the Oslo accords of 1993. Consistently, Israelis have demonstrated remarkable flexibility as well as generosity to any Arab leader genuinely offering peace.

And some other notable commentary:

Jeffrey Goldberg says it’s all, well at least somewhat, about Tzipi: "So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes. It’s up to Livni, of course, to recognize that it is in Israel’s best interests to join a government with Netanyahu and Barak, and I, for one, hope she puts the interests of Israel ahead of her own ambitions."

Benny Avni has a different take, saying the goal is to oust Bibi: "President Obama has ap parently adopted regime change as a goal — but his target is Israel. He’s plainly out to unseat (or at least change) the government of Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu."

Aaron David Miller is somewhere in the middle: "Broadly speaking, fighting with the Israelis (and with the Arabs, too) is a necessity in any serious American bid to make peace. But the tone matters, and it’s hard to discern why Obama’s team is behaving this way. In fact, I believe the administration has yet to define a workable strategy for advancing peace talks. My big question is: What does the President really want? Is he after a change of regime in Israel, or just a change in the prime minister’s behavior? The answer matters tons, and at this point it’s just not clear. … Washington has to find the right balance between being tough with Israel and being reassuring. Israel can often drive America to distraction, but it is not some banana republic that can be pushed around. Israelis live on the knife’s edge; Obama must understand the existential realities that affect their politics and attitudes."

Yossi Klein Halevi says the Palestinian rioting is President Obama’s fault: "Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s "day of rage" over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to "save" the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less."

On a lighter note, Vice President Joe Biden joked at the TV and Radio Correspondents dinner in Washington that it was nice to be back in a place where a boom in housing construction is actually a good thing:

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