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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The startling tone-deafness of the White House on settlements

When looking at this latest debacle of the White House demanding that Jews stop building and moving into East Jerusalem, it is remarkable how deeply naive and uninformed the Obama administration is.

The White House apparently cannot distinguish between the American Left, that dominates Obama's political thinking, and the Israeli Left. The administration apparently thought that they could split the Israelis along ideological lines by insisting on a settlement freeze, believing that the J Street crowd has the same mindset as Labor and Kadima. Instead, the White House has unified Israelis as never before, as even the most dovish, secular mainstream Israeli understands the need to keep large settlement blocs close to the Green Line and the importance of Jerusalem.

Despite all of the rumors about White House pressure on Arab governments, all of that is being done behind the scenes and outside the public eye. Only this one issue, that the White House clearly didn't understand in the least, has become a symbol of power, a political game of chicken between Israel and the US. The US promised its Arab allies that it would gain what it felt was a symbolic concession from Israel and, darn it, it has to keep its word, even if it had no idea that these issues weren't merely symbolic to Israelis. Once the White House made the demand public, it cannot back down.

And Netanyahu is not going to yield.

So something that could have been handled easily has turned into a major fissure, because President Obama naively thought that the Israeli left would abandon Netanyahu over the settlements issue. And he couldn't be bothered to actually talk to Netanyahu, someone he disparaged during the campaign.

Obama's naivete on this topic was revealed some 18 months ago. One would have thought he would have learned something in the meanwhile.