Will Ariel Block Peace? - Elliott Abrams via CFR
Putting aside my sympathies with the plight of the Obama Administration over the domestic policy death grip being exerted by the Tea Party - Obama and Clinton’s ME peace policy has been an unmitigated disaster form the start. How much this reflects endemic sympathy for the Palestinians on the part of Clinton and the State Department or a fundamental misunderstanding of Israel/Palestinian dynamics, I cannot say. But I do feel that there has been a resurgence of Arabists within the State Department, and that BHO has all but given the reins of his foreign policy over to Hillary Clinton and her group of advisors. I have frequently expressed my deep distrust of this Administration’s attitude towards Israel; BHO early on in his campaign turned to Carter stalwart Zbigniew Brzezinski for foreign policy advice. Clinton famously planted a big ol’ smooch on Arafat’s wife. Am I simply paranoid? Hard to say.
When I worked on these issues in the Bush Administration, we discussed settlement expansion thoroughly with the government of Israel and (as I have explained elsewhere) reached agreement on some principles. These were that Israel would create no new settlements and that existing settlements would expand in population but not in land area. New construction, that is, would be in already-built-up areas, and the phrase we used was “build up and in, not out.” The usual complaints about new construction in the settlements were that “it is making a final peace agreement impossible” or at least more and more difficult by “taking more Palestinian land” that would have to be bargained over in the end and whose taking would right now interfere with Palestinian life and livelihoods. We understood that there would never be a long construction freeze even if there might be some brief ones, for the settlements–especially the “major blocks” that Israel will keep–are living communities with growing families. So we reached that understanding with the Israelis: build up and in, not out. That way whatever the chances of a peace deal were, construction in the settlements would not reduce them.
This agreement the Obama Administration ignored or denounced, suggesting at various times that it never existed or that, anyway, it had been a bad idea and all construction must be frozen–even in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. (To be more accurate, construction by Israeli Jews was to be frozen; construction by Palestinians could continue). No Israeli government could long accept such terms and though the Netanyahu government did agree to a short and partial freeze, when that failed to bring the PLO back to the negotiating table the freeze was ended. This Obama fixation with a construction freeze proved disastrous because the president and his secretary of state took the view that it was a precondition for negotiations without which the Palestinians could not be expected to come to the table. Of course once that American position was announced the Palestinian leadership had to adopt it, lest they appear weaker in asserting Palestinian “rights” than Washington.