The Blog

White House Priorities

4:16 PM, Dec 28, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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After three days of radio silence from our Nobel laureate president on al Qaeda's attempted Christmas Day Massacre, President Obama finally felt compelled to get off the beach and make a statement. Nearly two hours before that, the White House issued a statement responding to an hours old news report that the Israeli government had authorized the construction of 700 new apartments in East Jerusalem. So now we know what the administration's priorities are.

The statement from the White House on Jerusalem construction explained flatly that this United States government "opposes new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem." Candidate Obama once memorably declared that "Jerusalem must remain undivided," now his administration opposes the construction of even a single Jewish apartment anywhere in the eastern half of that city (which American law recognizes as the capital of Israel).

It's an odd statement -- and given the track record of loosely worded and later corrected statements on this issue, it's hard to know what to make of it. Last month the White House expressed "dismay" at Israeli "settlement" construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, only to correct that statement hours later and remove the word "settlement" in recognition of the fact that no previous administration had ever described Gilo as any such thing. Maybe they've again made the mistake of using sloppy, hastily prepared language on a sensitive issue -- a problem that has plagued this administration's approach to the Middle East in general.

But at least Obama once again took his time before weighing in on the protests in Iran, and then showed that regime the appropriate level of deference and "mutual respect" in addressing it by its official (and self-aggrandizing) title, the Islamic Republic.