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The Monitor's View

Israel crisis: US must keep up the pressure

Obama must persuade Israel that peace with the Palestinians is a 'vital' interest, and not merely a common one.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / March 17, 2010

The Obama administration appears to be turning down the rhetoric in its heated exchange with Israel over last week’s surprise announcement of 1,600 more Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem. It should not, however, relieve pressure on Israel to show that it is ready to compromise in making peace with the Palestinians.

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Just days ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the settlements announcement during Vice President Biden’s trip to Israel “insulting”; White House aide David Axelrod characterized it as an “affront.” (Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and Israeli housing units there are illegal under international law.)

By Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton was making reassuring comments about the United States and Israel sharing “a close, unshakable bond” and that Washington has an “absolute commitment to Israel’s security.” Of course, that’s true.

But she wisely did not back off her demand for concrete action from Israel as the two sides verge on proximity talks leading up to peace negotiations. The US, she said, is still asking Israel for “the requisite commitment to this process.” Meanwhile, George Mitchell, US facilitator of the talks, delayed his trip to the Mideast this week.

The continued US pressure is necessary. For one thing, the ill-timed announcement about the units made the White House look weak – and that’s not good for the world’s only superpower, whether it’s trying to fight Islamic terrorists or convince China and Russia of the dangers of a nuclear Iran.

The units debacle was the second time President Obama has suffered a very public put-down by Israel. The other was when he swallowed a 10-month moratorium on Israeli settlements, instead of the full stop that he had pushed for in his speech in Cairo last summer. That speech was intended as an outreach to the Muslim world and an attempt to shore up America’s role as an honest broker in the peace process.