How Clinton's 180 on Israeli Settlements Changes the Peace Process

The U.S. backs off the demand to halt all settlements

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The Obama administration has been admired and lambasted for taking a harder line against Israeli settlements, making their cessation a precondition for peace talks. This has led some supporters of Israel to worry that the state is beset on all sides. So when Secretary Clinton praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer for "partial settlement moratorium," bloggers and prominent Palestinians blasted her for backing down. Their outrage forced Clinton to rephrase her stated position on Monday morning. Nevertheless, it's clear the U.S. has changed its policy ahead of negotiations. But what does this mean in the broader scheme of things?

  • Big Win for Israel, Big Loss for Everyone Else  "What exactly is the Obama Administration playing at?" Sky News's Dominic Waghorn isn't impressed, calling the about-face "a stunning achievement for Israeli diplomats." Palestinian President Abbas, a man who "has spent his term in office trying to persuade his people it is worth his government negotiating with Israel under American stewardship," he writes, "has been left hanging in the wind." So now, "[s]elling that idea [of negotiations] now as he prepares to go into new elections just became even harder." Palestinians in general are furious, he adds.
  • Big Loss for Israel Too, Ultimately, blogger Matthew Yglesias points out. "It’s worth observing this is the dynamic that’s existed between Netanyahu and Hamas since back in the Oslo days with the actions of each re-enforcing the political position of their alleged enemies on the other side, hollowing out the middle ground and plunging the region into an ever-more-disastrous situation."
  • Obama Looks Silly, Abbas Looks Done-For, and the Talks Won't Succeed  "[D]oes the Obama administration," writes Spencer Ackerman on the Attackerman blog, "get how precarious a moment this is for the Palestinian leadership?" Gaza, he says, is a "humanitarian disaster," and when "President Abbas bowed to Obama’s pressure to slow-walk the Goldstone report; he got an onslaught of popular anger so furious he probably won’t run in next year’s election for fear of humiliation." Netanyahu, argues Ackerman, clearly "knows what he's doing. Does Obama?" And what about those talks? Well, says Ackerman, "[i]f Netanyahu won’t go along with a settlement freeze, does anyone seriously believe he’s going to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority controlled or even influenced by Hamas?" For that matter, "does anyone believe that Obama will force him to, if he won’t enforce the settlement freeze?"
  • Time to Face Facts on Israel  Henry Siegman, a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, warns in the New York Times that Obama's effort to curry favor with Israelis is ill-advised: 
[T]he reason for this unprecedented Israeli hostility toward an American president is a fear that President Obama is serious about ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis do not oppose President Obama’s peace efforts because they dislike him; they dislike him because of his peace efforts. He will regain their affection only when he abandons these efforts. That is how Israel’s government and people respond to any outside pressure for a peace agreement that demands Israel’s conformity to international law and to U.N. resolutions that call for a return to the 1967 pre-conflict borders and reject unilateral changes in that border.
  • Time to Face Facts on the Obama Administration  "The Obama team," writes Jennifer Rubin at conservative Commentary magazine, "told us it knew better." They argued the U.S. was "too close to Israel," or not close enough to the Muslim world, or the situation had been mismanaged by Bush. "But the Obama team’s assumptions have proved entirely faulty and its execution utterly incompetent."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.