Sunday, March 28, 2010

Politico's Laura Rozen has a behind-the-scenes piece up about the debate within the Obama Administration on Israel policy.

Sources say within the inter-agency process, White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is staking out a position that Washington needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu’s domestic political constraints including over the issue of building in East Jerusalem in order to not raise new Arab demands, while other officials including some aligned with Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell are arguing Washington needs to hold firm in pressing Netanyahu for written commitments to avoid provocations that imperil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to preserve the Obama administration's credibility.
I think it's a mistake to portray this as a dichotomous choice between supporting Netanyahu and holding his feet to the fire.  Both sides here have merit.  Israel is a functioning democracy, and only an old-fashioned realist would entirely disregard the domestic political forces that impact Netanyahu's decision-making process.  Conversely, if Israel continues to blatantly disregard American requests without punishment, any remaining credibility the U.S. has in the region as an honest broker will be lost.

Obviously there is no easy solution.  But Mitchell's point cannot be disregarded - the Obama Administration must extract some concessions from Israel, particularly regarding settlements, or any hope of progress towards peace will be damaged.
   

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