Israel’s settlement challenge

Israel plans to construct 1,100 homes in the disputed territory of Gilo, in East Jerusalem.

The U.S. expressed dismay after Israel this week approved the construction of 1,100 homes in disputed territory. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said plans to expand housing in the Gilo area, in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the future capital of an independent state, was “counterproductive” to attempts to restart peace negotiations. International pressure for new talks has intensified since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week called on the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state despite the opposition of the U.S. and Israel. In response to Abbas’s bid, the Middle East Quartet—the U.S., the U.N., the European Union, and Russia—urged both sides to resume talks and “refrain from provocative actions.” That was widely interpreted as a call for Israel to stop expanding settlements. A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected criticism of the construction plans, declaring that Gilo was an “integral part of Jerusalem.”

The criticism just proves that President Obama is no friend of Israel, said Jonathan Tobin in Gilo has been a Jewish neighborhood for more than 40 years, and “it was not the subject of much, if any, comment by any previous administration.” By demanding that Israel stop building there, Obama has legitimized not only Palestinian demands for a redivision of the city, “but also their desire to evict” 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem.

Actually, Obama is a committed defender of Israel’s security, said Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. It was revealed last week that one of his first actions after taking office was to supply Israel with 55 powerful bunker-busting bombs, which could be used against underground Iranian nuclear sites. But he has also signaled that he “does not believe settlements help Israel stay safe. Quite the opposite.” This is a consistent policy, “and a consistently pro-Israel policy as well.”

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It hasn’t bought him any influence in Israel, though, said Tony Karon in Netanyahu has repeatedly ignored Obama’s requests to stop settlement building, knowing the president can’t afford to alienate Jewish voters by condemning Israel. Meanwhile, Abbas refuses to take part in direct talks “while settlements continue to expand.” Obama would “undoubtedly like the Israeli-Palestinian issue to simply go away, at least until he’s reassured election.” He’s unlikely to be granted that luxury.

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