Obama and the West Bank

Obama's push to freeze Israeli settlements draws criticism from all sides. Experts debate what's right for Israel and for the U.S.

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As Obama pushes Israel to freeze settlements, reactions have been sharp. Some say he's too forceful, some too modest; some argue that Obama is wrong entirely, some say the same about Israel. And the strong pronouncements from three major newspaper editorial boards are only part of this debate.

The New York Times praises Obama for "nudging Israel and the Palestinians into serious peace negotiations" but wants more: "President Obama and Mr. Mitchell claim they are making progress, but so far there is little sign of it." The Washington Post warns that, by wading into the settlement debate, Obama is damaging American popularity and thus interests with Israel as well as the Arab word: "The president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed." The Los Angeles Times is the most supportive, lauding Obama's "more evenhanded approach" and urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to trust that "ultimately this serves the interests of Israel, its Arab neighbors and the United States."

Commentary's J.E. Dyer cites Obama's move for "an outside veto over Israeli activity in the settlements" in explaining " a U.S.-independent tone emerging in Israel's foreign policy." Dyer says a prominent pro-settlement Israeli political leader is building ties with China, Russia, Europe and Latin America. Dyer warns of Obama's anti-settlement push:

"Israel cannot allow the settlements issue to bog down its own broader security policy. [...] We should expect Israel to seek support and leverage elsewhere if the Obama administration's posture seems likely to both encourage intransigence from the Palestinian Arabs and allow Iran to test a nuclear weapon."

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Israel should go further than just freezing settlements (in a follow-up, he criticizes "extremists who have conflated support for the settlement project with love for Israel and the Jewish people"):

"If these outposts are allowed to stand, it will mean that the government of Israel is incapable of enforcing its own laws, or unwilling to do so. Israel and the United States demanded of the Palestinian Authority that it jail those who defied Palestinian law and threatened the Palestinian national cause. Israel should treat these settlers in the same manner. They are criminals who undermining the sovereignty of the Jewish state. If they are not stopped, then we might as well face the harsh truth, that the settlers are in open revolt against the government of the State of Israel, and that their fanaticism may destroy the 2,000-year-old dream of Jewish independence."

Meanwhile, Newsweek's Gregory Levey makes a novel suggestion for engaging Israel: Obama should appoint George W. Bush as Middle-East envoy.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.