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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture