Speaking at a press conference today in Ramallah, President Obama said he doesn't "want to put the cart before the horse" in terms of dealing with the so-called settlement issue before the security issue:
"Mr. President, President Abbas," said the CBS reporter. "On behalf of all my colleagues, I want to get more specific on the questions of settlement and the overall peace process. Mr. President, when you started your administration, you called for a halt to settlement activity. That held for a while and dissipated and then late last year when the Israeli government announced very sensible settlement activity in the E-1 zone, your administration put out a statement that many in this region thought was either tepid or completely non-responsive. What would you say here in Ramallah, Mr. President, to those entrepreneurial Palestinians you referenced who believe have you been equivocal or nonresponsive on the issue of Israeli settlements?"
"Well, Major," said Obama, "I think I answered the question previously about settlement. You mentioned E-1 in particular, I think that is an example of a -- at least a public statement by the Israeli government that would be very difficult to square with a two-state solution. I've said that to President Netanyahu. I don't think that's a secret. With respect to whether there is a requirement or freeze or moratorium -- I want to repeat what I just said earlier which is if the only way to even begin the conversation is that we get everything right, at the outset, or at least each party is constantly negotiating about what is required to get into talks in the first place, then we're never get to the broader issue which is, how do you actually structure a state of Palestine that is sovereign and provides Palestinian people dignity? And how do you provide Israel confidence about its security? Which are the core issues."
Obama continued, "The core issue right now, how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and how do we get security for the Israeli people? And that's the essence of this negotiation. And that's not to say settlements are not important. It is to say that if we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved. So I don't want to put the cart before the horse. I want to make sure that we are getting to the core issues and the substance. Understanding that both sides should be doing what they can to build confidence, to rebuild a sense of trust and that's where hopefully the U.S. government can be helpful."
On January 29, Israel’s cabinet approved new “housing benefits” for “national priority areas.” The exact application of these benefits to communities in the West Bank is unclear, to me at least, but the cabinet statement says, “The decision is designed to encourage positive migration to the communities.” News reports suggest that of the 557 communities eligible for the aid, 70 are in the West Bank: “The list of qualifying settlements include major enclaves that would likely remain in Israeli hands under a peace deal. But most are located deep inside the West Bank and likely would have to be dismantled.”
Last Friday night, March 11, Palestinian terrorists broke into a home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar and stabbed to death everyone they found inside. The father, Udi Fogel, and his three-month-old daughter, Hadas, had their throats slit in bed. The mother, Ruth, was stabbed as she came out of the bathroom.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus, president of Z Street, has done some excellent reporting on the recent 2011 J Street conference in Washington. J Street, an invention of Obama allies, has been feted at the White House, and addressed by senior Obama administration officials. It’s Obama’s favorite Jewish group.
When direct talks begin next week between Israelis and Palestinians, the fate of Jewish settlers in the West Bank – tens of thousands of them – will be a major issue in the negotiations. But the settlers themselves won’t be part of the discussion. Nor have American officials involved in the talks been willing to meet with them.
I’ve read Mr. Wright’s article a half dozen times, and I’m struggling to understand his strange definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. It seems that to Mr. Wright the more loudly you criticize Israel, the more pro-Israel you can claim to be. By that standard, the United Nations is a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment.
That’s a strange view of friendship. Wright and the Obama administration are in a frenzy over the view that Jews in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods are the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Wright certainly knows that most Palestinians consider all of Israel a “settlement.” They don’t want Jews in Jerusalem, and they don’t want them in Tel Aviv. They don’t want a Jewish state period.
“Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday about the state of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, demanding that Israel take immediate steps to show it is interested in renewing efforts to achieve a Middle East peace agreement.