"US, Israel still at odds over Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem"
When I just read that headline on an April 8th A.P. story, I was more glad than upset.
Why? Because it indicates the Obama Administration, so far, is standing its ground in its position against Israel's plans to build new housing in East Jerusalem. That's refreshing because most U.S. presidents, after an episode such as this, give in to Israeli pressure and take the safe, easy way out. History suggests Obama, too, will, eventually, find his own way to be overly accommodating to Israel in the days ahead.
Yet, for the past several weeks, Obama has maintained his position - which appears justified, well-timed and one that sends an appropriate signal to Israel.
It was nearly a month ago that shortly after Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. Biden condemned Israel's announcement. Other Obama officials ripped Israel's move, thus kicking off a rift between the United States and Israel in recent weeks.
The Obama Administration has tried to persuade Netanyahu to halt new settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem in an effort to lay the groundwork for peace negoatiations with the Palestinians, who view these occupied territories - along with the Gaza Strip - as the site of their future state. Netanyahu disregarded the US wishes pertaining to the West Bank by restraining, but not fully freezing, new settlements, and, in recent weeks, has signaled no change in Israel's plans in East Jerusalem.
There are many reasons why Netanyahu's position is a troubling obstacle to peace. The largest, indisputable reason is that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory that Israel annexed after the 1967 war and that no other country has recognized it as part of Israel.
According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the UN Charter and UN Resolution 252, Israel's planned construction in East Jerusalem would be, in fact, illegal, because of East Jerusalem's "occupied" status. The reason many people aren't aware of that is that the mainstream media incorporates a regular bias in its coverage that is slanted toward Israel. Thus, in many references, articles have referred to Netanyahu's claim that Jerusalem is Israel's capital or defenders of Israel have tried to argue, lamely, that the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by the US Congress, essentially states that Jerusalem shall be undivided.
The only problem is that while the US Congress approved the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital, that Act is not the foreign policy of the US. It has never been implemented by Presidents Clinton, Bush or Obama - and - as stated previously, it's not the policy of other countries across the world to recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel.
So, Netanyahu's stubborn stance to build 1600 new units there is obstructionist - period. How can Netanyahu be regarded as interested in peace while he's openly, repeatedly thumbing his nose at the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the potential capital of their new state? He's thumbing his nose at the Obama Administration, which has said, clearly, that Israel must halt its settlement policy as a precondition to peace talks. Further, Netanyahu, is, arrogantly, disregarding international law and policy that applies to East Jerusalem.
What's disturbing is that if one reviews media coverage, you'd never know that the UN and the Fourth Geneva Convention do not recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel. Those who follow the Middle East know this, but, most people read about Netanyahu's claims and they don't understand how outrageously false and unfair they are. Journalists for many years seem to follow a ridiculous, ill-conceived practice of including "both sides" in their stories - even when there are not two sides. This story of planned new housing in East Jerusalem is a good example of this. Israel is out of line here. Israel has no good defense for its actions - besides dampening any hopes for a peace process. I don't think Netanyahu wants a serious peace process, anyway, do you?
What has troubled me is to witness the extent of criticism of President Obama's stance toward Israel on this housing issue. Apologists have said Obama went "way too far" in his response to Israel. The President met with Netanyahu in at the White House in March, and, reportedly left the discussions to be with his family while Netanyahu conferred with his staff on the lower level of the White House. Later, the two men met only briefly before Netanyahu left, and, apparently, reached no resolution of their dispute.
Good for Obama. Perhaps he can be firmer with Israel than his predecessors. I think he's chosen a good moment to stand up to Netanyahu, who has acted badly and provocatively.
In order to stand his ground, Obama will have to ignore the many irrational, pro-Israeli critics, who whine about every little slight or mistreatment they can identify. It's hard to understand why so many critics of Obama's team have chosen to defend Israel in light of Netanyahu's recent actions.
Some observers say the rift between the US and Israel is one of the worst in many years, but, I'd argue that it's critical for the US to maintain its position -- to send a signal to Israel and the rest of the world that it's trying a new approach in the Middle East.
Politicians and people must end the longstanding habit of remaining silent when Israel does something wrong. If Israel wants peace, it should reverse its housing plans in East Jerusalem.
I hope Obama keeps pushing for that because, while the standoff may delay progress, in the end, the only way genuine peace talks can happen is for Israel to get off its high horse, acknowledge realities on the ground and make a few concessions of its own.