Yes indeed, the settlements
By Tzvia Greenfield [from Ha'aretz, available in English or the original Hebrew]
Of all the strange things that have happened this peculiar summer, the strangest is the way that oddly assorted elements have lined up to explain to U.S. President Barack Obama why pressure regarding freezing the Jewish settlements in the territories is not the best way to deal with Israel's evasion of implementing the two-state solution.
Beyond the urgent need to internalize that the establishment of a Palestinian state will ensure Israel's salvation as a Jewish and democratic state, it would seem that two facts should be clear to every sensible person. One is that Obama seems to have irrevocably made up his mind that a Palestinian state will be established, even at the price of serious pressure on Israel. The other is that of all the promises he made on the eve of his election, it is most convenient to deal with this one immediately, especially because dealing with it consists at the moment only of pressure on Israel.
It has, after all, become completely clear that it is very difficult to deal with the economic crisis; it is almost impossible to arrive at results regarding Iran; and North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are not child's play either. Obama can be trusted to act in accordance with his political interests without being frightened by Israel's threats.
The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not understood these basic facts is leading to his inevitable defeat, unless he comes to his senses and brings opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of Kadima into his government. In the inevitable clash with the United States to which the prime minister and his cabinet are leading us, the result has to be clear in advance: It's the Titanic that will sink, not the iceberg.
Nevertheless, some consolation can be found in the current situation: Obama, after all, is being kind to us. Of all the means at his disposal to push Israel to the negotiating table, the only one that cannot really hurt it in any way is the discussion surrounding construction in the settlements. And would it be better for us if the United States decided to harm Israel's security interests? Is it preferable that the profound relations of friendship and trust between the two countries be damaged?
Of all the issues that Israel insists are important, expanding Jewish settlement in the territories is the only one that has no objective justification apart from the hallucinatory agenda of the settlers and their supporters. On the contrary, stopping it can only be beneficial to advancing peace.
Why then should the Obama administration not pressure Netanyahu on precisely this issue? Only because the right refuses to touch its sacred cows, even though they are harming the interests of us all? After all, the settlements are the excess we will have to get rid of to reach an agreement. Obama is serving our interests in that he is trying to limit the damage we are bringing on ourselves.
And precisely because the settlements really are not important, as many claim, it is in our interest that they, and not more serious issues, bear the price of getting the peace process started.
The United States, with justification and wisely, is not giving in to Israel on this issue, and it appears the Obama administration understands correctly that the real and perhaps only test of Netanyahu's seriousness regarding the two-state plan will be his willingness to end the expansion of the settlements.
If Netanyahu, despite all his speeches, is not able to fulfill this simple requirement - which as noted does no real damage to Israel - it is a sign that it is not in our interest to keep discussing a Palestinian state with him. And it really isn't in our interest for Obama to reach this conclusion.