Why Israel will thwart Obama on settlements
For the Jewish state, the settlements are eminently sensible and their growth is almost certain to continue, either openly or stealthily.
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From Jerusalem southward, the construction of the Har Homa settlement crabs outward to the doorsteps of Palestinian Bethlehem. From the air, these settlements appear a terrestrial octopus, extending out to ultimately link up with the more militant Jewish settlements farther south in Hebron, another city with a large Palestinian majority.Skip to next paragraph
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Settlement building resembles military flanking and encirclement maneuvers, isolating Palestinian population centers. In Jerusalem, there are at least half a dozen Arab neighborhoods, including the Mount of Olives, threatened by Israel's voracious hunger for land. Quoted in the newspaper Haaretz, Sarah Kreimer of Ir Amim, a group specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations, says, "In each of these places, plans are being advanced for construction whose ultimate purpose is to disconnect the Old City from Palestinian Jerusalem."
Israelis have brilliantly created a sense of inevitability to all this. Yet, the moral difficulties of moving indigenous peoples off the land by subterfuge or force are obvious. When in the past I've raised the ethical implications of these land appropriations, Israelis have dismissed me, saying, "Hey, you Americans did it to the Indians."
American presidents have often quietly nudged Israel to freeze the settlements, but their actual leverage has been minimal. Israelis have elected both doves and hawks as prime minister, but virtually all Israeli governments supported settlement expansion in varying degrees.
Jewish political clout in America ought not be underestimated. A former chairman of the American Israel Political Action Committee once boasted to me, "We got [Sen.] Chuck Percy [an Illinois Republican who was narrowly defeated in 1984] when he crossed us on the Palestinians." President Obama will face a similar threat at election time if he defies Israel's expansionist instincts.
US presidents have so frequently pledged unshakable support for Israel that it's created the illusion that US and Israeli interests are identical. It might be useful for Mr. Obama and his Middle East team to publicly point to serious differences with Israel when they arise. If the US can have public disagreements with its allies, including Britain, why should Israel be exempted from what could be a healthy debate?
Jewish settlement construction may temporarily downshift into neutral. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may hail "a building freeze." But if the past is prologue, the first time Obama is distracted by another domestic or international crisis, and Washington isn't looking, the Israeli bulldozers will be back at work.
Walter Rodgers served as the CNN bureau chief in Jerusalem for 5-1/2 years. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor's weekly edition.