Saturday, November 28, 2009

What Obama Should Have Said to Israel

President Obama has the right priorities and he articulates them well. For that reason alone, he merited his election, and probably merits re-election as well. But he also came out of the starting blocks compromising, instead of using his power and prestige to make others compromise. He thereby wasted some of the political capital he had when he was elected, and has encouraged his opponents and adversaries at home and abroad to paint him as being 'weak'. This mistake was understandable, at least in the area of domestic policy, because he was trying to learn from the examples of Presidents Carter and Clinton, who ran into trouble after antagonizing Congress. But a President is upposed to have more latitude in foreign policy than in domestic policy---even if foreign policy touches upon some important domestic constituencies.

At the outset, President Obama should have set a new, tougher tone with Israel in order to expedite the peace process. Specifically, he should have listed a set of penalties for Israel for continuing to build settlements anywhere in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem:

1) witholding government loans;
2)deducting the amount of aid money to Israel in proportion to the amount of money that Israel spends on settlements; and
3) indicating that henceforth the US will not automatically wield a protective veto over UN resolutions that are hostile to Israel.

Now, it is true that Israeli P.M. Netanyahu has recently ordered a temporary freeze on settlements in the West Bank ,but not East Jerusalem. That is because he was embarassing and angering the President of the United States, who had been under growing pressure to apply sanctions. So he deftly avoided that eventuality by "voluntarily" agreeing to stop some of the settlement building.

But it should be President Obama letting Netanyahu off the hook, not the other way around. And then only if all , and not just some, of the settlement building is stopped.


It was amusing to hear former Vice-President Dick Cheney accusing Obama of "dithering" over his decision about Afghanistan. This certainly doesn't appear hypocritical when you consider how "decisive" Bush and Cheney were about Iraq in 2001-2003. But it is hypocritical when you consider that the proper focus of the War on Terror--Afghanistan and Pakistan--has been neglected for six years. All the more reason to call the Bush presidency one of the worst in history.

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