Leading article: Barack Obama should keep the pressure on Israel

The American President has some new domestic cards to play

Share
Related Topics

It is a testament to the hubris of Benjamin Netanyhau's government that having seen off an attempt by Barack Obama to freeze settlement construction, it has now given the US President a second chance to claw back that defeat. Much has been said about the inadequacy of Mr Netanyahu's apologetic admission that last week's announcement of a plan to expand the Ramat Shlomo settlement was badly timed. As the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made admirably clear to the Israeli Prime Minister in her famous telephone call last Friday, Washington objected to the substance as much as to the timing.

Yet the timing was indeed bad. It came less than 48 hours after Mr Obama's envoy George Mitchell had finally been able to announce that indirect negotiations would go ahead – negotiations which an infuriated Palstinian leadership said it would not participate in if the plan stood. It is hard to believe that some in Israel's government did not know that this would be the consequence. Certainly Mr Netanyhau's suggestion that because the settlement is viewed by most Israelis as an integral part of Jewish Jerusalem, nobody thought to challenge it, is extraordinarily lame. No one who has been around Middle East politics as long as he has could be ignorant of how Palestinians would see the move.

One view is that President Obama is heading for another defeat and that in an election year he cannot withstand the wrath of the powerful right- wing pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC. If so, serious scrutiny of the way AIPAC uses its ample funding to influence American democracy, mainly in what it perceives to be the interests of a foreign government, is overdue. Fortunately the arrival of J Street, a vastly less well-funded group but one more representative of the impressive majority of American Jews who voted for Mr Obama in 2008, and which is backing him now, makes that possible without the usual charges of anti-Semitism.

But, as it happens, many American Jews will rally to the powerful argument that by restraining a Likud government prepared to jepoardise peace talks in this way, Mr Obama is actually acting as a true friend of Israel and its long-term security. And Mr Obama also has other domestic cards to play. This week's warning by General David Petraeus of the "enormous" effect of continued Israeli-Palestinian tension on the tasks confronted by US forces in Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Iraq is a salutary, if overdue, reminder that an end to the conflict is an urgent American interest as well as an Israeli and Palestinian one.

Yet Mr Obama may not be able to rely on mere rhetoric as President Bush senior did not when he briefly suspended loan guarantees to bring Israel to negotiations in 1991. Here the EU, a key trading partner of Israel, needs to lend its (albeit secondary) support. Lady Ashton did herself nothing but good yesterday by visiting Gaza. She should add her voice at the Quartet meeting in Moscow today to those urging an end to the destructive two and half year economic siege.

She was of course right to condemn yesterday's fatal Qassam rocket attack. And as she grows in authority, Baroness Ashton should ally herself with US efforts to break the wider deadlock in the Middle East. That need not bring Mr Netanyahu down (though it may). The Israeli prime minister could reach out to the centre and left to replace the fundamentalists in his coalition. But it is primarily the job of Mr Obama to help him decide whether those friends are more important to him than the alliance with the US.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HLTA - Higher Level Teaching Assistant

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The reactions to Renee Zellweger's face say more about us than about her

Emma Gannon
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes are named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London