Ahead of his trip to the Middle East, President Obama is making clear that he won't budge an inch from his demand that the Israelis freeze all settlement construction, on both sides of the fence, and even in Jerusalem proper -- what Obama once called the undivided capital of Israel when he was still campaigning for president. On the other side of the ledger, Obama declared today that the Iranians have the right to nuclear power, that they have until the end of the year to show they're serious about negotiating, and that the regime's diplomats are invited to American Fourth of July celebrations at embassies around the world.
While Obama tries to charm the Iranians, he has nothing but demands and threats for Israel. His administration, nearly six months in and with no apparent strategy for dealing with a recalcitrant Iran, is already kicking around creative ways to embarrass and humiliate the Netanyahu government should it disobey orders from Washington. It's a situation that could be difficult for some Democrats to explain to their constituents. As Ben Smith discovers, some of the Democrats who vouched for Obama on Israel during the campaign, and viciously attacked those who questioned his commitment to the Jewish state, are beginning to squirm a little themselves. Take Robert Wexler, who once said Sarah Palin was linked to a Nazi sympathizer in a bid to boost Obama among Florida Jews:
Wexler, an early Obama ally and a staunch defender of his Middle East policy, said in his view, the settlement freeze should apply only to settlements outside Israel's security fence, or wall, and should exclude territory that appears likely to ultimately remain part of Israel.
"To expect Israel to have the same policy outside the security fence as inside the security fence is unrealistic; it's counterproductive," he said. "I don't think [the administration's] public statements have been specific enough" to resolve the question of whether they were referring to all settlements or only settlements outside the barrier, Wexler said.
Wexler may be the last person in Washington still asking for clarification on this. Obama couldn't make it any more clear. Smith quotes New York Dem Anthony Weiner as well: "There's a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line...I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism." Weiner also said "he'd heard complaints from constituents during the congressional recess."
On the other side of the equation, Obama is apparently holding out hope that he can secure such enormous concessions from the Arabs so as to make all of this moot:
On his upcoming trip to Riyadh this week, Obama is expected to press Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab states, to move toward normalizing relations with Israel, a breakthrough that might satisfy Israel's domestic allies and allow him more room to push the question of settlements, analysts said.
Beside the fact that this seems borderline delusional ("To make this work, the sun, moon and the stars would need to align almost perfectly," says Aaron David Miller) one wonders why Obama believes he must take out the big stick for little Israel yet has nothing but carrots, speeches, and grand gestures for his friends in the Muslim world. How will Wexler explain that he vouched for a candidate who bows to Saudi royalty, but throws the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel under the bus?