Gulp! (Don’t Back Down Again)

UPDATE: Hmm.  Crap

[tweetmeme] Last year Obama did himself and the entire peace process a massive disservice by demanding that Israel halt all settlement construction and then backing down on the demand.  It forced the Palestinians to adopt the same view and paradoxically helped settlements while hurting Obama’s image in Israel.

Bruce Wolman is now writing about a Haartez report on the President’s response to the Bibi-Biden dispute.  Apparently Sec. of State Clinton gave Bibi four steps that Israel needs to complete in order to restore US confidence in the Jewish state and to stop the Israeli bleeding in Washington.  The steps, as Wolman points out, are harsh and could do some serious damage to the ruling coalition.  On the other hand, if completed (and enforced by Washington) would raise the world’s view of America while giving the peace process a serious jolt of energy.  From Wolman:

If true – and if the Obama administration is serious this time – fulfilling the demands will be a stunning humiliation for the present Israeli government, perhaps even causing the heavily oriented right-wing coalition to collapse.

The four steps, according to Haaretz are:

1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo construction plans in the middle of Biden’s visit. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons. Already on Saturday night, Netanyahu announced the convening of a committee to look into the issue.

2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

4. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict’s core issues – borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and settlements.

If Obama can stand firm in the face of pressure from pro-Israeli groups and media pundits and actually force Bibi into complying, I would be impressed.

Unfortunately, this move – again, if true – is a big gamble for the Administration.  If Obama demanded these four steps from Netanyahu and does not follow through on his demands, he will lose all credibility in the eyes of just about every person hoping for peace.  It is not an overstatement to say that if Obama backs down again to Netanyahu, Israel and Palestine won’t make peace during Obama’s single term.

Yes, if Obama shows his claws and then backs down again he will have powerful domestic enemies that would severely damage his ability to be reelected.  The Israeli lobby would be furious that Obama dared to try to stand up to Israel and those hoping for peace would resign themselves to the hope of peace under another president.

Obama is much smarter than I, so I hope he has a good idea of how this will end.  If this report is true, Obama is going all in on this one hand and risking everything in an attempt to completely realign America’s Middle East policy to better fit the reality of the region.

It is a big risk with a big reward.  Do you feel lucky Obama?  Do ya?

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