Israel is, however, receiving support from one important source—the U.S. Senate—in a way that suggests Netanyahu’s apparent initial strategy may not have been so misplaced after all.
Eighty-seven senators have already signed a letter to Obama that takes a quite different view of the situation from that expressed by Crowley, Ban, Hague, and Ashton.
Starting by “express[ing] our appreciation for your successful effort to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” the letter’s key passage states:
Unfortunately, it is clear that enemies of peace will do everything in their power to derail the direct talks, as evidenced by recent outrageous acts of violence by Hamas…. Following the brutal murder of four innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas at the start of the negotiations,…Netanyahu did not abandon the talks. Instead—after forcefully condemning the attack—he reached out to…Abbas saying, “You are my partner for peace. Peace begins with leaders.” We agree with the Prime Minister, and we also agree with you that it is critical that all sides stay at the table. Neither side should make threats to leave just as the talks are getting started.
No less significant than what an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of the Senate says here is what it left out—namely, the settlement-freeze issue, of which there is no mention in the letter. Instead the reference to “mak[ing] threats to leave just as the talks are getting started” is a none-too-veiled criticism of Abbas, pointedly contrasted to Netanyahu’s remaining in the talks despite terrorist provocations.
I’ve argued that the talks in any case are misconceived and harmful, ignoring the Palestinians’ ongoing fundamental hostility to Israel and drawing a false connection between Israel’s retreat to indefensible borders and peace. Others have criticized Netanyahu’s whole approach of acquiescing to U.S. pressure and projecting himself as an enthusiast of the talks and of Abbas as a partner.
But given that this is the course Netanyahu has taken, it’s important that a modicum of justice attend the unfolding events. With that commodity lacking in EU and UN quarters and in the administration itself, its continued existence in the Senate, as representative of the U.S. public as a whole, is a plus for Israel.
Last spring when Obama led his administration in a particularly nasty assault on Israel over plans to build apartments in Jerusalem, the Senate also came to Israel’s defense—but with a letter addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rather than Obama, thereby mitigating its impact. The fact that the current letter is addressed to the president—and also refers to the earlier letter to Clinton, subtly underlining the contrast—reinforces the warning to Obama that reflexively taking the Palestinian side is not a wise political tack for him.
Obama is on notice that giving a free pass to the side that stonewalls, threatens, and extorts will do nothing to shore up his already tottering fortunes.
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