What The Obama Administration Doesn't Understand About The Middle East

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 18, 2010

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Let’s turn over the mike to Yossi Klein Halevi:

Astonishingly, Obama is repeating the key tactical mistake of his failed efforts to restart Middle East peace talks over the last year. Though Obama’s insistence on a settlement freeze to help restart negotiations was legitimate, he went a step too far by including building in East Jerusalem. Every Israeli government over the last four decades has built in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; no government, let alone one headed by the Likud, could possibly agree to a freeze there. Obama made resumption of negotiations hostage to a demand that could not be met. The result was that Palestinian leaders were forced to adjust their demands accordingly.

Obama is directly responsible for one of the most absurd turns in the history of Middle East negotiations. Though Palestinian leaders negotiated with Israeli governments that built extensively in the West Bank, they now refused to sit down with the first Israeli government to actually agree to a suspension of building. Obama’s demand for a building freeze in Jerusalem led to a freeze in negotiations.

Finally, after intensive efforts, the administration produced the pathetic achievement of “proximity talks”—setting Palestinian-Israeli negotiations back a generation, to the time when Palestinian leaders refused to sit at the same table with Israelis.

That Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur. But he has now taken his failed policy and intensified it. By demanding that Israel stop building in Ramat Shlomo and elsewhere in East Jerusalem—and placing that demand at the center of American-Israeli relations—he’s ensured that the Palestinians won’t show up even to proximity talks. This is no longer amateurishness; it is pique disguised as policy.

Who’s briefing the President? Or, more accurately perhaps, what’s the President’s problem?

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