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"Obama's Recklessness is Endangering Israeli and Palestinian Lives"

Yossi Klein Halevi on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations.

6:54 PM, Mar 17, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Yossi Klein Halevi comments from Jerusalem on "The Crisis" in the liberal New Republic. He ends with a serious charge: "[W]hat is clear today in Jerusalem is that Obama's recklessness is endangering Israeli--and Palestinian--lives. As I listen to police sirens outside my window, Obama's political intifada against Netanyahu seems to be turning into a third intifada over Jerusalem." 

Here's the first part of his piece:

JERUSALEM—Suddenly, my city feels again like a war zone. Since the suicide bombings ended in 2005, life in Jerusalem has been for the most part relatively calm. The worst disruptions have been the traffic jams resulting from construction of a light rail, just like in a normal city. But now, again, there are clusters of helmeted border police near the gates of the Old City, black smoke from burning tires in the Arab village across from my porch, young men marching with green Islamist flags toward my neighborhood, ambulances parked at strategic places ready for this city's ultimate nightmare.

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. Such announcements and building projects have become so routine over the years that Palestinians have scarcely responded, let alone violently. In negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, the permanence of Ramat Shlomo, and other Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, has been a given. Ramat Shlomo, located between the Jewish neighborhoods of French Hill and Ramot, will remain within the boundaries of Israeli Jerusalem according to every peace plan. Unlike the small Jewish enclaves inserted into Arab neighborhoods, on which Israelis are strongly divided, building in the established Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem defines the national consensus.

Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas's "day of rage" over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority's call to gather on the Temple Mount to "save" the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City's Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident?

The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

In addition to this New Republic piece, be sure to read Shlomo Avineri's recent review of Dennis Ross's and David Makovsky's book in the Jewish Review of Books. Here's a snippet:

The authors try to reintroduce realism into US policy in the region, but realism based on reality, not on abstract constructs. They also argue that the administration should carefully nurture reform in the Arab world—and they identify some of the more prominent reformers who should be encouraged. But this should be done without undermining existing regimes, realizing this is a long-term process, not a deus ex machina. After all, Bush’s insistence on Palestinian elections granted Hamas not only a plurality but also quasi-democratic legitimacy. Pushing for peace should also be accompanied by a measured assessment of what is feasible, as opposed to a pipe dream, even if it looks nice on paper. Hence, conflict management rather than conflict resolution should be seriously considered—after all, this has been the approach in Cyprus, Bosnia, and Kosovo after more ambitious peace plans have failed.

There is an obvious subtext to all of this: aside from telling a political story, the authors also maintain that the claim that the US should “distance” itself from Israel, and thus regain its standing in the Arab world, is wrong-headed. It is a timely reminder, bolstered by sound historical knowledge and understanding of the region.

The book’s value is enhanced by the fact that both authors are “doves”: they believe in a two-state solution and find the Israeli settlement policies unconscionable on both moral and political grounds. In the past, Ross has sometimes been accused by Israeli negotiators of being “pro-Palestinian.” But being dovish does not mean being starry-eyed or ignorant. Therein lie wisdom and moderation.

Read the whole thing.

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